Between January 1 and 13, Kenya has experienced three cases of filicide (killing of a child by a parent), two of which were by mothers and one by a father.
Since the beginning of the year up to January 13, three cases relating to attempted or actual filicide have been recorded according to media reports. Filicide refers to the killing of a child by a parent, step-parent or de facto parent.
The three cases of filicide reported involved mothers in Bomet, Kisumu and one by a father in Makueni.
The woman in Bomet County confessed, on January 7, to having killed her five-month-old daughter the previous day due to economic hardships she faced.
The 20-year-old allegedly strangled the baby on at around 5pm but acted normal for over 12 hours until the baby’s father got suspicious because his daughter hadn’t woken up by early morning hours of Tuesday.
The Kisumu mother allegedly attempted to kill her four children then herself due to frustrations she faced from her estranged husband.
In Makueni, a man angered after a disagreement with his wife, turned to his one and a half-year-old son, smashing him on the ground. The infant died at Makueni County Referral Hospital and the father later hanged himself.
These parents reflect the gendered motivations and inhumane modes of killing in the paternal and maternal filicides the society and stakeholders should be privy to in order to prune the tip while the tree is still young.
Overall, 34 cases of infanticide were reported in 2018, an increase from 31 in 2014 according to Kenya’s 2019 Economic Survey.
Women are the biggest offenders with 25 of filicides committed in 2014. In 2018, the number of male offenders increased to 11, from six in 2014, while that of female dropped to 23.
It is not normal for a parent to kill their child. Studies and experts point to psychological, sociological and economic reasons why mothers and fathers are turning into “abnormal’ beings.
A 2014 study in Australia that interviewed women and men found guilty of killing their children, revealed gendered motivations for the filicide. The Maternal and Paternal Filicide: Case Studies from the Australian Homicide Project study showed that while mothers are more likely to perpetrate altruistic or neglectful filicide, for fathers it is accidental. Mothers would kill due to extreme stress or misguided sense of altruism, while fathers would do it as revenge on a spouse, acute mental illness or severe discipline as expounded in ‘Thinking about the unthinkable: Why do parents kill their children?” explainer published in the Sydney Morning Herald.
A man or woman who has previously been subjected to physical or sexual abuse is also highly inclined to be a filicide parent according to a 2018 study which examined the mental health and negative life events of women convicted of killing their children in United States.
“As compared to men incarcerated for the same offense, filicidal women were significantly more likely to report being the victims of physical or sexual abuse,” states the report.
The researchers also found that filicidal women faced greater financial struggles a month prior to committing the murder.
The findings of a 2007 study ‘The murder of children by fathers in the context of child abuse’, suggest that men with a fragmented and disruptive childhoods, adulthoods characterised by minimal education, persistent unemployment, criminal convictions, and a history of violence, had an inclination to committing paternal filicide. Although it focused on Britain, the variables and context of the study mirror the Kenyan situation as absentee fathers, poor upbringing and rare mentorship programs for boys are factors attributed to crimes and drug abuse among boys.
Women are more predisposed to additional triggers due to their other maternal responsibilities with post-partum depression (PPD) being a distinct trigger.
Dr. Estelle Sidze, a maternal and child health specialist at African Population and Health Research Centre points to PPD as a probable cause of the 20-year-old Bomet woman killing her daughter.
She says a woman can fall into PPD in the first year of delivery with poverty, extreme stress, unintended pregnancy, lack of social support, exposure to violence and high level of care giving demands being among the contributing factors.
A mother battling PPD exhibits glaring indicators including self-blame even when she has done nothing wrong, hopelessness and worrying all the time.
Dr. Sidze proposes community-based interventions led by trained and supervised health workers as a solution to the problem.
“These have been proven to be effective for women with mental health problems following childbirth,” she says.
“These interventions include symptom recognition, exercises and cognitive behaviour therapies to teach emotional self-management, including problem-solving, in facilitated group programs.”
She says mental health needs of women can be met thr