Our children are probably the people that most of us love the most. They are fragile creatures we have seen born, who have needed us and conquered us from the moment they came into the world and for whom we would give everything. Protecting the offspring is natural for most human beings and for many other animals, often leading many parents to risk or sacrifice their own lives in order to protect them.

And not only on a biological level: our culture also places the family and the protection and care of the family and especially the offspring as one of the most important institutions. That is why cases like that of Breton, who murdered his two sons, have shocked society. We are talking about one of the most mediatic cases of filicide in recent times. And it is about this type of crime, filicide, that we are going to talk about throughout this article.

Filicide: the murder of one’s own children

Filicide is the murder of one or both parents , regardless of the motive or methodology used. The context in which this murder or homicide occurs can be very variable, ranging from postpartum psychosis to the presence of domestic violence or the use of the child as an object to harm the other member of the couple.

With respect to victims, although filicide does not refer to the age of the victim, children under six months of age are generally at greater risk of suffering lethal violence from their parents. With regard to gender, no differences have generally been detected in Western society.

This is a crime that most of society considers to be at least abject and unnatural and is generally seen as rare, but which, although unusual, unfortunately occurs in greater proportion than it appears at first sight. In fact, filicide is one of the types of crime that generates most unnatural deaths of children , with a large majority of violent deaths of minors caused by the parents themselves (the percentage of violent deaths of children by people outside the family is around 25%).

We are before a very serious blood crime, severely punished by law , not only for the fact of killing a person voluntarily but also for the aggravating circumstance that it is carried out by someone related to the victim, abusing the trust and the bond of the victim with the murderer.

In addition, in many of the cases we are dealing with a murder in which there was a relationship of dependence and a great difference in the power relations between the two , abusing the difference in physical strength or in the superiority in age, experience and dynamics of power and dependence for the sustenance and even the survival of the victim towards her executioner.

Filicide or infanticide? Differences

The truth is that although the concept is easily understandable, the term filicide is not as well known among the general population, being much more common the use of the term infanticide for this type of crime. However, the truth is that although filicide may be infanticide, these concepts are not synonymous but have clear differences between them.

First of all, while infanticide speaks of the cause of death of a child by an adult, to speak of filicide implies that the author of such a death is one of the persons who maintains a filial relationship with the minor : one of the parents.

One aspect that we must also bear in mind is that when we think of filicide we usually think of the murderer as a child, but the truth is that the concept actually refers to the intentional provocation of the death of a son or daughter regardless of his or her age.

What are the motivations that the filicides usually have?

It is difficult to imagine what could motivate a person to actively provoke the death of one or more of their own children. However, some authors such as Resnick have attempted to make a general classification of the reasons that have been expressed in different cases. The research carried out reflected the following categories or types of filicide .

1. Altruistic Filicide

This type of filicide usually occurs when the child has some type of medical condition that makes or is considered to make him/her suffer all his/her life, or has some type of terminal illness. The aim is to provoke the death of the son or daughter as a method of avoiding suffering .

Another subtype of filicide considered altruistic by those who carry it out is that which is directly linked to the suicide of the aggressor himself. The parent intends to commit suicide and considers that his or her children will not be able to live or that it would be unfair to abandon them, preferring to kill them before making them face the situation.

2. Generated by psychosis or mental illness

Although the consideration that people who carry out these types of acts are people with mental disorders is unrealistic, the truth is that in some cases filicides do occur in the context of mental illness. An example is during some kind of psychotic break, in the context of hallucinations or delusions in which the child is mistaken for a possible enemy, persecutor, murderer, alien or demon. Another option is that it occurs in women with postpartum depression, being of special risk the first days.

3. Unwanted child

This type of filicide is motivated by the fact that the child in question was unwanted by the parents or by one of them, or by the fact that they could not take care of the child. Technically, some authors consider abortion as such, although filicide is usually reserved for children already born. A less dubious and controversial and more direct example is that which occurs due to negligence of the child’s needs or abandonment of the child .

4. Accidental release

Filicide that was not intended to cause the death of the child in question, but ends up leading to it, is considered as such. It is frequent in the context of domestic abuse or vicarious violence to bend the will of the partner in the case of gender violence. It can also occur in the context of a fight.

5. Revenge or Utilitarian Filicide

The death of the child is used as an instrument of torture and revenge, usually to hurt the partner for some kind of harm or rejection. This is a type of violence by the victim that is directed not so much at the minor himself (his death is the least of the aggressor’s concerns) but rather at causing harm to another person .

Filicide: common characteristics

Killing a child is not, as we have said before, a frequent occurrence. However, there are certain circumstances and characteristics that can facilitate the commission of this type of act.

Among them, it has been observed that many of the cases of filicide occur in people with diminished capacity for motherhood or fatherhood . In some cases there has been a deprivation of affection in the parent’s own childhood, living the parent-child relationship as something negative in which there has been no love and possibly some type of abuse.

Other possible risk factors are found with young mothers and fathers, whose first child appears before the age of 19, and with few economic and social resources. Finally, another different profile includes the presence of sadistic and psychopathic characteristics, lack of emotional bonding with the child and the use of this as an instrument to manipulate, control or attack the other (this last profile also corresponds to that of the abuser).

Bibliographic references:

  • Company, A., Pajón, L., Romo, J. & Soria, M. Á. (2015). Filicide, infanticide and neonaticide: a descriptive study of the situation in Spain between 2000-2010. Revista Criminalidad, 57 (3): 91-102.
  • González, D. & Muñoz-Rivas, M. (2003). Filicide and neonaticide: A review. Psicopatología Clínica Legal y Forense, 3 (2): 91-106.
  • Kalinsky, B. (2007). The Filicide. Some Conceptual Collections. Nomads. Revista Crítica de Ciencias Sociales y Jurídicas, 16 (2).
  • Resnick, P.J. (1970). Murder of the newborn: a psychiatric review of neonaticide. Am J Psychiatry, 126(10): 58-64.