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Annexure B1  -  Filicide definitions and categories

Filicide is the deliberate act of a parent/s, or step-parent, killing their child or children. The word filicide is derived from the Latin words filius and filia (son and daughter) and the suffix -cide, meaning to kill, murder, or cause death.

Below is an extract from An Overview of Filicide  Sara G. West, MDcorresponding author  2007


"Definitions of Filicide

A number of terms have been used somewhat interchangeably in the description of child murder (Figure 1). Often, filicide refers to any murder of a child up to the age of 18 years committed by his or her parent(s) or parental figure(s), including guardians and stepparentsInfanticide commonly applies to the murder of a child under the age of one year by his or her parent(s)

Neonaticide, a term coined by Phillip Resnick in 1970, refers to the unique circumstance in which a newborn is killed by his or her parent(s) within the first 24 hours of life.  It is important to recall that filicide can be committed by both men and women, though far less literature exists on paternal filicide than maternal filicide.

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Figures 1    Definitions of filicide

Classification Systems of filicide

In an effort to aid in understanding a parent's motivation for killing his or her child, multiple classification systems of filicide have been devised based on the type of crime and the gender of the perpetrator. The systems serve to better delineate the motives behind these crimes. The first classification system identified in psychiatric literature was published in 1927 and divided mothers who committed filicide into two groups: Those who perpetrated the act while lactating and those who did so after the end of lactation. Of the 166 cases the author reviewed, he believed that 70 percent were related to exhaustion or lactation psychosis. Though this system has fallen out of favor, it is founded on the important idea that filicide may be motivated by the hormonal changes and stressors associated with childbirth and caring for an infant.

A 1957 study established two groups of homicidal mothers who killed their illegitimate infants in the first day of the infants' lives. Group one was identified as young, immature primiparas who submit to sexual relations and have no history of legal trouble, while group two consisted of women with strong primitive drives and little ethical restraint. The large majority of women who commit neonaticide fall into the first of these categories. This study made significant strides in identifying neonaticide as a distinct crime involving very different circumstances when compared to other filicides.

One of the most influential classifications of child murder was created in 1969 by Phillip Resnick. He reviewed 131 cases of filicide committed by both men and women that were discussed in psychiatric literature dating from 1751 to 1967. He developed five categories to account for the motives driving parents to kill their children:

  1. Altruistic filicide—The parent kills the child because it is perceived to be in the best interest of the child.

    1. Acts associated with parental suicidal ideation—The parent may believe that the world is too cruel to leave the child behind after his or her death.

    2. Acts meant to relieve the suffering of the child—The child has a disability, either real or imagined, that the parent finds intolerable.

  2. Acutely psychotic filicide—The parent, responding to psychosis, kills the child with no other rational motive. This category may also include incidents that occur secondary to automatisms related to seizures or activities taking place in a post-ictal state.

  3. Unwanted child filicide—The parent kills the child, who is regarded as a hindrance. This category also includes parents who benefit from the death of the child in some way (e.g., inheriting insurance money, marrying a partner who does not want step-children).

  4. Accidental filicide—The parent unintentionally kills the child as a result of abuse. This category includes the rarely occurring Munchausen syndrome by proxy.

  5. Spouse revenge filicide—The parent kills the child as a means of exacting revenge upon the spouse, perhaps secondary to infidelity or abandonment.

The most common motive in Resnick's study was altruism. In total, this category accounted for 49 percent of the cases reviewed. The least common motive was spousal revenge, which accounted for only two percent of the murders. This comprehensive classification system can be applied to both female and male perpetrators.

In 1973, Scott devised another classification system based on the impulse to kill. This was the first classification system in the literature based solely on the actions of fathers. The system was derived from his research involving 46 fathers who killed their children (Table 1). In 1999, Guileyardo published a classification system based on Resnick's system, which was enhanced to reflect a broader range of motives (Table 2). In 2001, Meyer and Oberman created a classification system identifying the causes of maternal infanticide (Table 3). While there certainly exists some overlap between the classification systems proposed over the last several decades, the development of these systems contributes some important points to the growing body of knowledge related to filicide.

Table 1  Scott's Classification System based on paternal filicide

1. Elimination of an unwanted child by assault or neglect
2. Mercy killing
3. Gross mental pathology
4. Stimulus arising outside the victim
5. Victim as stimulus


Table 2   Guileyardo's Enhanced Classification System based on Resnick's System (whose classifications are in bold)

1. Altruism
2. Euthanasia
3. Child suffering from real adverse event
4. Acute psychosis
5. Postpartum mental disorder—According to the DSM, the postpartum specifier can be applied to mood disturbances or brief psychotic disorder if onset occurs within four weeks of delivery
6. Drug and alcohol abuse
7. Seizure disorder
8. Unwanted child
9. Unwanted pregnancy or neonaticide
10. Angry impulse (accidental renamed)—deliberately inflicted injury but not meant to cause death
11. Innocent bystander—parent often is the intended victim
12. Sadism and punishment—planned, disturbing acts meant to cause harm
13. Sexual abuse
14. Negligence and neglect
a. Negligence—acts outside the realm of behavior of a reasonable person
b. Neglect—long-term lack of appropriate care
15. Munchausen-by-proxy—harm may be intentional or unintentional
16. Violent older child—physical altercation between parent and older child
17. Spouse revenge

"With one child killed by a parent every fortnight in Australia, some of the biggest red flags for filicide are being catastrophically missed."