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Am J Forensic Med Pathol. 2005 Dec;26(4):320-6.

Women who kill their children.

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Forensic Medicine Department, Angers, France.


The killing of a newborn on the day of its birth is known as neonaticide. A child aged 1 through 16 has a different role in the family, and their murder is perceived differently. We would expect mothers charged with filicide to be drawn from a slightly different population than other child-killing mothers.


Our study was carried out at the Institute of Forensic Medicine in Angers over a 10-year period. All the victims were autopsied at the Institute of Forensic Medicine in Angers. Information concerning the mothers was collected from forensic medical files, police reports, and legal files. Interviews and forensic psychiatric examinations were available for consultation.


Our study concerns 17 observations of child-killing mothers and 19 child autopsies. In 2 cases, the issue was in fact a double murder, with the mother killing all the siblings. The mean age was 3.5 years for victims and 29.5 years for the women. The majority of the mothers were married or lived with their partners. They often had an occupation. Generally the economic status was average. Head trauma, strangulation, suffocation, and drowning were the most frequent means of filicide. However, some mothers used more active methods such as striking and shooting. Disturbed or disturbing behavior was documented in 15 perpetrators. Seven women tried to commit suicide. It was often possible to identify apparent motivation for the offense.


In our study, we can distinguish 2 types of killer mothers. We distinguished a first group made up of 5 mothers. These 5 women killed their children in a general context of abused children and present similarities with the neonaticide mothers (young, immature). The other group of filicide mothers is different. They are generally older, married, and employed. The crime is usually premeditated, committed with the direct use of hands and sometimes very violent. To understand the motives or the source of the impulse to kill, we can use a classification such as Resnick's classification: mothers from the first group fall within the framework of accidental filicides: the risk and prevention factors are those of infanticide and ill treatment. For the other mothers, we can distinguish altruistic filicides (8 cases) and spouse revenge filicides (2 cases). Few of the mothers suffered from real psychiatric problems; however, most of them presented troubles which could have been taken into account. A lot of women showed signs of suicidal tendencies prior to the event, displaying aggressive and angry behavior. In general, suicide attempts tend to prevail. These offenders act out of an acute sensitivity to social regulation. A variety of psychosocial stresses appears to have been a major factor. These stresses include lack of social or marital support, economic difficulties, family stress, and unrealistic expectations of motherhood. The precipitating stress may have been a dispute. Prevention begins with the identification of potential perpetrators. Therefore, medical doctors have a significant role in relation to the prevention of child murder.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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