Fri | Dec 9, 2016

Mummy, please don't kill me!

Published:Sunday | March 22, 2015 | 12:00 AM

Once more the child homicide odometer is ticking and more of our most valuable assets have been killed. The death of 14-year-old Joel Lovelace, reportedly from gunshots fired by the police, is very painful, especially as this child seemed to have been the epitome of promise and discipline, the model child, on the way out of the trappings of inner-city poverty. Summed up in the lamentations of his father: "Mi baby, mi baby ... dem kill mi baby; di track star, di quiz team star, di defenda. Mi baby!" The despair and pain are contagious.

Still, despite the contradicted police reports of a shootout, which some residents claim was very unique, because the gunmen and police seem to have been using the same gun and bullets, I am confident that between the police and the Independent Commission of Investigations, the truth will be uncovered.

However, it is the absolutely worst-case scenario, of a mother killing her infant, which has pushed the discussion of child abuse to another level. Not even the story of the eight-year-old child, killed along with family members in St James on Thursday, which now propels the number of child homicides into the 20s, disturbs me as much. On Tuesday, a 24-year-old Clarendon woman allegedly took her 18-month-old child, Jay Nelson, into a coffee field and coldly stabbed him to death, then calmly returned home with the corpse and left it lying in the kitchen. There is some suggestion that she had some 'challenges,' which might have mediated her judgement. At the time of writing, she was in hospital; not jail, hinting that she might have psychological issues. After all, normal mothers do not kill their children.

A day earlier, in Cincinnati, Ohio, in the USA, the three-month-old daughter of Deasia Watkins was found with her head completely severed by children who were playing in the house. Watkins, the clear suspect, and who was charged with aggravated murder, seemed to have made no effort to hide her crime.

Further afield, the same day, in Russia, Nadejda Voronova was charged for the same crime after she also decapitated her daughter, because the Devil or his minions told her to do it. A common thread binds these three, however. They are single mothers who suffer from some type of mental illness or stress-related condition, who have custody of their child.

 

Shocking trend

 

In the first instalment of what has now become a trilogy, I pointed to research across the USA, which revealed that most killers of infants below five years old are actually very close blood relatives and parents in particular. Despite the typical, 'Daddy, don't touch me there', stereotype of the perverted father who molests his child and then kills her/him to prevent detection, or the Hansel and Gretel/Snow White/Cinderella father, who allows the evil stepmother (ESM) to abuse and attempt to kill his child, the data show a different trend.

ESMs are in fact not the major killers of children, and as strange as it might sound, 'maternal filicide' is much more common than we or the 'experts' in the family courts believe. More than 200 American women kill their children each year, with between three and five being killed by their parents, each day in the USA. The numbers might not seem to add up because oftentimes there are multiple murders. Incredible as it might sound, there are around 50 women on death row in the USA. Of this number, around a dozen are there for filicide. In North America, 2.5 per cent of all homicides are of children.

Amazing as it might be, homicide is a major cause of children fatalities globally. A snapshot of Canadian child homicide cases a few years ago showed that of the 27 solved cases, 23 were by a parent: 10 by mothers, nine by fathers, with four by stepfather, and one by an ESM.

 

Unfounded prejudice

 

Overall, the data are far more imposing and lean more heavily towards biological mothers. Oftentimes those persons charged with the responsibility of determining who cares more for a child are blinded by the unfounded prejudice that men don't like their children and are less protective, Single fathers or fathers with stepmothers are actually less likely to kill their children than depressed, lovelorn or forlorn women, who are under pressure to care for their children, when they have limited means to do so. This may have to do with economic resources, but just as important are support networks or the lack thereof. Think! Are not mothers more likely to hide the molestation of their children than fathers? Who is more likely to 'walk cutlass under your skin' or simply sharpen the 'lass' for making comments or looking on one's child; mother or father?

Nevertheless, there are some signs that can help to warn us when women are at risk of harming their children. Mothers, who kill, tend to cluster in the 20s to 30s age group and do often say they are contemplating harming their children. Anthropologist Nancy Scheper-Hughes warns that when a woman says, "I really shouldn't be trusted with my kids," she should be taken seriously. Depression, other clear psychological disorders, expressing fear that if children were to live they would suffer, constant complaining that they can't see ahead, are flashing lights.

Generally, there are five types of motives for filicide; i) altruism, when the mother thinks she is saving her child from a fate worse than death; ii) psychosis, when voices and hallucinations tell her to; iii) maltreatment, such as abuse or neglect; iv) unwanted child filicide, where the child is seen as an impediment or burden; and v) revenge, where the mother seeks to spite the father.

Too much ignorance surrounds these matters and the subtleties often escape judges, who are only experts in law. Child custody and welfare cases should be adjudicated, not only by judges who are lawyers, but perhaps panels, including behavioural scientists, who can see beyond the law.

- Dr Orville Taylor is senior lecturer in sociology at the UWI and a radio talk-show host. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and tayloronblackline@hotmail.com.