infanticide (ĭnfănˈtəsĪd) [key] [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.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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