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infanticide(ĭnfăn`təsīd) [Lat.,=child murder], the putting to death of the newborn with the consent of the parent, family, or community. Infanticide often occurs among peoples whose food supply is insecure (e.g., the Chinese and the Eskimo). Female infanticide was common in some traditional patriarchal societies. In certain societies children who are deformed or are believed tainted by evil (e.g., twins) may be slain at birth. In Greece and ancient Rome a child was virtually its father's chattel—e.g., in Roman law, the Patria Potestas granted the father the right to dispose of his offspring as he saw fit. In Sparta the decision was made by a public official. Child sacrifice occurs in many traditional societies for religious reasons, but human sacrificial victims were generally appreciated members of society, unlike victims of infanticide, who were devalued. Christianity, like Islam and Judaism, condemns infanticide as murder, and in all countries the act is a crime. If infanticide served as a means of limiting family size, as many anthropologists believe, then the introduction of contraceptives, abortion, and other methods of population control may have rendered it obsolete.
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- the killing of infants soon after they are born. Several reasons have been identified for the practice of infanticide, especially in nonindustrial societies:
- a means of population control, particularly in times of trouble such as FAMINE or war;
- a means of eliminating children with undesirable or unacceptable characteristics, such as disabled or sick children. Plato proposed infanticide as an ideal, and the infanticide of ‘defective’ children was practised in Sparta;
- a means of eliminating children whose birth is considered TABOO, such as breech births and twins;
- a means of reinforcing patriarchal values and behaviour; in many nonindustrial societies it was the practice to kill, or allow to die, many more girls than boys.
- (in English law) the manslaughter of a child under the age of 12 months by the child's mother, according to the Infanticide Act of 1938.
Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000
Infertility (See BARRENNESS.)Astyanax
Hector’s infant son, thrown from the walls of Troy by the Greeks. [Gk. Myth.: Hamilton, 289]
warned that a son would dethrone him, swallowed all his children at birth. [Gk. Myth.: Benét, 237]
leaves her illegitimate infant to die. [Br. Lit.: Eliot Adam Bede]
Allusions—Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.