Grim shadows of affection

A manifestation of severe socio-psychological interactions, filicide — or the gruesome act of killing one’s own child — has found significant prevalence in Indian society

Grim shadows of affection

Trigger warning: sensitive topic

In the wake of a heart-wrenching incident in Bengaluru where a 4-year-old child was allegedly murdered by his techie-mother, the age-old adage that a mother’s love knows no bounds is called into question. This sad reality is not isolated, as filicide, the act of killing one’s own child or children, is more prevalent in our country than one might assume.

Recent incidents and filicide types

On January 16, 2024, in the Mashoba district of Uttar Pradesh, a 35-year-old woman allegedly poisoned her four children before attempting suicide. Authorities attribute her depression to her husband’s alcoholism and domestic abuse. In another tragic incident on January 14, 2024, a 40-year-old man in Tamil Nadu’s Tiruppur district is accused of stabbing his two daughters, aged 9 and 19. These incidents shed light on the pressing issue of filicide in India.

What is filicide?

The term is derived from the Latin words “filius” (son) and “cida” (killer or act of killing). Filicide is the act of killing one’s own child or children and is a severe social and psychological issue that requires appropriate education, intervention, and prevention.

Phillip Resnick is a prominent forensic psychiatrist who has contributed significantly to the field of filicide research through his influential paper titled “The Abandoned Infant: A Study of 313 Cases of Infanticide” in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

Types of filicide

* Neonaticide (new-born within 24 hours of birth);

* Infanticide (child under one year of age);

* Honour killings: In the name of keeping the family’s name/ image intact;

* Filicide-suicide;

* Altruistic filicide: A parent may believe they are acting in the best interest of the child by killing them, for example if the child has an end-stage illness, birth defect, or genetic condition;

* Spousal revenge filicide: In order to take revenge against the other parent due to a divorce or separation.

* Psychotic filicide: Acting on distorted thinking or hallucinations may lead to the act of filicide.

* Accidental filicide: In rare cases, the death of a child may occur accidentally, such as in cases of child neglect or unsafe parenting practices.

Historical context

Filicide is not a new phenomenon, with historical precedents like the “Massacre of the Innocents” ordered by King Herod the Great in the New Testament. However, the recent surge in reported cases calls for a deeper understanding of the contemporary factors contributing to this tragedy.

What are the reasons behind it?

Filicide can be motivated by various factors, including mental illness, stress, abuse, revenge, honour, or altruism. Mental health issues such as depression, psychosis, mood disorders, and personality disorders often play a significant role. Studies reveal that many perpetrators had not sought mental health services prior to the incidents, emphasising the need for awareness and intervention.

Young teenage girls who become mothers are in estranged relationships and have poor psychosocial support. Post-partum depression and psychosis can also play a role. A father is likely to have been convicted of violent offences, antisocial or narcissistic personality disorders, and a history of substance misuse.

What is filicide-suicide?

The act of a parent killing their own child and then committing suicide. In some cases, the parent’s suicidal feelings are extended to the child because they do not want to leave them behind.

What can someone do if they are feeling impulses of rage or murderous intent towards their child?

* If you are suffering violent thoughts or thoughts of murdering a loved one, recognise that these thoughts need help, and it’s best not to let time heal them. Action is imperative;

* Immediately seek help from a mental health professional, like a psychiatrist. They can offer direction, evaluation, and assistance. A psychiatrist may recommend medication to help control high emotions if it is deemed suitable;

* Call a helpline to find the closest assistance. Some helpline numbers in India: 14416 or 1-800-891-4416;

* Speak with a dependable family member, friend, or co-worker;

* Separate temporarily, if possible, drop the child off with another caregiver they are safer with;

* Avoid any sharp objects, medicines, or dangerous items near you;

* Long-term therapy for the underlying issues causing these strong emotions, think about continuing therapy.


* Shutter Island: a mother drowns her three children due to an untreated mental health disorder.

* Talvar: A movie based on the Arushi-Talwar murder case, allegedly by her parents.

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