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Infanticide

children, time, practice, infants, life, infant, law, romans and paulus

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INFANTICIDE. The practice of put ting infants to death, or exposing them, has existed in many countries from the remotest periods on record. Both in the Grecian states and among the Romans the exposure of infants was a common practice ; and it does not appear that it was punished by any legal penalty. The difficulty of maintaining children must always have been one motive for infanticide, or the exposure of children. Aristotle (Politica, vii. 16, ed. Bekker) proposes the following regulation : "With respect to the exposure and nur ture of infants, let it be a law that no infant shall be brought up which is im perfectly formed ; but with respect to the number of children, if the positive mo rality do not permit it, let it be a law that no child that is born be exposed ; for in deed the limit to procreation has been de termined. But if any children should be born in consequence of cohabitation con trary to these rules, abortion should be procured before the foetus has perception and life, for that which is right and that which is not will be determined by per ception and life." This is perhaps the meaning of the passage in Aristotle ; but it is not free from difficulty, and it has been variously explained ; but so much is certain, that he recommends the procur ing of abortion in certain cases. Plato, in his Republic' (v. p. 25) recommends expo sure of the infants of the poor, and imper fectly formed children : he also recom mends abortion. It does not appear that any legal check was put on the practice of exposing children among the Romans till the time of Valentinian and his colleagues (Cod., viii. tit. 51 (52), § 2) ; though the enactment of Valentinian refers to an existing penalty, and the penalty is not mentioned in the title here referred to. It is a disputed point whether the doctrine of Paulus (Dip. 25, tit. 3, " De Agnos cendis et alendis liberis," &c. § 4) is to be considered a moral precept or a law (Gib bon, Decline and Fall, ch. xliv. note 114). Paulus says, " It is the opinion (or my opinion, " videtur ") that a man must be considered as causing death, not only if he suffocates an infant, but if he casts the infant away, or refuses it food, or ex poses it in public places to obtain that compassion which he himself has not." This seems to imply that the legal con clusion was, that any of these acts was equivalent to killing a child. Now, though exposure of infants was common among the Romans, and for a long time was not punished, it cannot be inferred that direct means of depriving an infant of life were not punished, at least in the time of Paulus. The judgment of Paulus therefore would make child-exposure a punishable offence. The adoption of this

maxim into the legislation of Justinian must be considered as giving to it the efficacy of a law. On the subject of child-murder among the Romans, see Rein, Criminalrecht der R6nter,.p. 439, and the modern writers referred to in his note.

In modern times, the practice is per mitted in many countries. In China, or at least in some parts of the empire, a large proportion of the female population are put to death as soon as they are born. Among the Hindus it was practised to a very great extent, till the Marquis Wellesley, when appointed Governor General of India, used every possible ex ertion to put a stop to it. By the perse verance of Major Walker and others his endeavours were successful, though un happily for only a short time, for Bishop Heber observes that " since that time things have gone on very much in the old train, and the answer made by the chiefs to any remonstrances of the British officers is, Pay our daughters' marriage portions, and they shall live' " (Narrative of a Journey in Upper India, and Hinds Infanticide, by E. Moor, F.R.S., 1811 ; including Walker's Report). Of the is land of Ceylon, Heber also remarks that in 1821 "the number of males exceeded that of females by 20,000; in one district there were to every hundred men only fifty-five women, and in those parts where the numbers were equal the population was almost exclusively Mussulman." Here also, as in Hindustan, the difficulty and expense of educating female children, and the small probability of their marry ing without some portion, while a single life is deemed disgraceful, are the motives leading to the perpetration of the crime. Among the Mohammedans the practice is not discountenanced, though the neces sity for it is greatly lessened by the habit of producing abortion. In the numerous islands of the Pacific, infanticide is prac tised to such an extent, that some of them have at times, when pestilence has contri buted its influence, been nearly depopu lated. When Cook visited Otaheite, he found its population to be upwards of 200,000 ; but in the early part of this cen tury it was reduced to between 5000 and 6000, and this principally from the prac tice of murdering their offspring. Mr. Ellis (Polynesian Researches) says that he does "not recollect having met with a female in the island, during the whole period of his residence there, who had been a mother, while idolatry prevailed, who had not imbrued her hands in the blood of her offspring." One of the con sequences of the introduction of Chris tianity and civilization into heathen coun tries has been the decrease or cessation of this abominable custom.

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