Infanticides in South Africa Number More Than One Per Day Interview with:

Prof Naeemah Abrahams South African Medical Research Council Chief Specialist Scientist: Gender & Health Research Unit Cape Town | Western Cape

Prof. Naeema Abrams

Prof Naeemah Abrahams
South African Medical Research Council
Chief  Specialist Scientist:  Gender & Health Research Unit
Cape Town | Western Cape What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Prof Abrahams: Violence is a common feature of the South African social landscape and the murder of children is the most severe form of violence against children.  A national child homicide study reflecting 2009 murdered was done. Information was collected from mortuaries and police detectives. We identified the demographic detail of the child, the perpetrator information (if available) and the motive of the killings. In this manuscript we look in greater detail at children under the age of 5 years as this group represent the 2nd largest group of children killed. We also have a focus on neonaticides.

We estimated that 454 children under the age of 5 years were killed in South Africa in 2009. This means more than 1 young child killed per day. The study showed the first 6 days of life are the time point of highest risk for being killed among children under 5 years with more than half (53.2%) of the children killed within the 1st month of their lives and nearly two thirds of the children (74.4%)  killed as infants.  This is amongst the highest reported rates for neonaticide and infanticide.

Parents, in particular mothers, were the most common perpetrator of the younger children – this is most likely due to them being responsible for the care of young children. What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Prof Abrahams: Homicide of children is preventable and the killing of young children speaks to the failure of reproductive and mental health and social services to identify and help vulnerable parents – mainly mothers with unwanted pregnancies. It is important that young pregnant women without social support are identified early and are assisted with different options including adoption services. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Prof Abrahams: A multifaceted approach is needed to prevent child murders with health services playing a key role in identifying and assisting mothers at risk to access mental, maternal and reproductive health services.

Surveys to monitor child homicides should be part of routine standard data collection in countries with data on perpetrators and motives important to assist in development of effective interventions. Is there anything else you would like to add?

Prof Abrahams: The number of children killed in a country is a proxy indicator of the effectiveness of the child protection system and as one of the critical steps in child protection systems in all countries is the collection of routine good quality data to ensure that we are responsive to the needs of mothers/ parents and children. Thank you for your contribution to the community.


Naeemah Abrahams, Shanaaz Mathews, Lorna J. Martin, Carl Lombard, Nadine Nannan, Rachel Jewkes. Gender Differences in Homicide of Neonates, Infants, and Children under 5 y in South Africa: Results from the Cross-Sectional 2009 National Child Homicide Study. PLOS Medicine, 2016; 13 (4): e1002003 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1002003

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Last Updated on April 27, 2016 by Marie Benz MD FAAD