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Infanticide, or the murder of a new-born child, is not treated as a

specific crime, but is tried by the same rules as in cases of felonious

homicide. The term is applied technically to those cases in which the

mother kills her child at, or soon after, its birth. She is often in

such a condition of mental anxiety as not to be responsible for her

actions. It is usually committed with the object of concealing delivery,

to hide the fact that the girl has, in popular language, 'strayed

from the paths of virtue.' The child must have had a separate existence.

To constitute 'live birth,' the child must have been alive after its

body was entirely born--that is, entirely outside the maternal

passages--and it must have had an independent circulation, though this

does not imply the severance of the umbilical cord. Every child is held

in law to be born dead until it has been shown to have been born alive.

Killing a child in the act of birth and before it is fully born is not

infanticide, but if before birth injuries are inflicted which result in

death after birth, it is murder. Medical evidence will be called to show

that the child was born alive.

The methods of death usually employed are--(1) Suffocation by the hand

or a cloth. (2) Strangulation with the hands, by a tape or ribbon, or by

the umbilical cord itself. (3) Blows on the head, or dashing the child

against the wall. (4) Drowning by putting it in the privy or in a bucket

of water. (5) Omission: by neglecting to do what is absolutely necessary

for the newly-born child--e.g., not separating the cord; allowing it

to lie under the bed-clothes and be suffocated.

With regard to the question of the maturity of a child, the differences

between a child of six or seven months and one at full term may be

stated as follows:

Between the sixth and seventh month, length of child 10 to 14

inches--that is, the length of the child after the fifth month is about

double the lunar months--weight 1 to 3 pounds; skin, dusky red, covered

with downy hair (lanugo) and sebaceous matter; membrana pupillaris

disappearing; nails not reaching to ends of fingers; meconium at upper

part of large intestine; testes near kidneys; no appearance of

convolutions in brain; points of ossification in four divisions of


At nine months, length of child 18 to 22 inches; weight, 7 to 8 pounds;

skin rosy; lanugo only about shoulders; sebaceous matter on the body;

hair on head about an inch long; testes past inguinal ring; clitoris

covered by the labia; membrana pupillaris disappeared; nails reach to

ends of fingers; meconium at termination of large intestine; points of

ossification in centre of cartilage at lower end of femur, about 1-1/2

to 2-1/2 lines in diameter; umbilicus midway between the ensiform

cartilage and pubis.

Owing to the difficulty of proving that the crime of infanticide has

been committed, the woman may in England be tried for concealment of

birth, and in Scotland for concealment of pregnancy, if she conceal

her pregnancy during the whole time and fail to call for assistance in

the birth. Either of these charges would only be brought against a woman

who had obviously been pregnant, and now the child is missing or its

dead body has been found. It is expected that every pregnant woman

should make provision for the child about to be born, and so should have

talked about it or have made clothes, etc., for it. The punishment for

concealment is imprisonment for any term not exceeding two years. The

charge of concealment is very often alternative to infanticide. To

substantiate the charge, however, it must be proved that there had been

a secret disposition of the dead body of the infant, as well as an

endeavour to conceal its birth.

A woman may be delivered of a child unconsciously, for the contractile

power of the womb is independent of volition. Under an anæsthetic the

uterus acts as energetically as if the patient were in the full

possession of her senses.

Nowadays a woman is rarely hanged for infanticide, and it is a mere

travesty of justice to pass on her the death sentence, well knowing that

it will never be executed.