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On 8 December 1998 passers-by found a baby crying in the Mizpah district in Glengoffe. The baby was taken to hospital but died while undergoing treatment. Two days later the baby's mother was arrested and charged with infanticide. (1) Infanticide is not a recent feature of Jamaican society. In the late nineteenth century, about three women were charged with infanticide per year, such as the fourteen-year-old Leonora Lewis, whose newborn child was found in a toilet on 4 April 1897 and died four hours later. (2) A crime that was closely related to infanticide in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Jamaica and one that was also almost exclusively committed by lower-class women, was concealment of birth, for which on average six women per year were prosecuted. (3) In February 1901, the Gleaner, Jamaica's biggest-selling newspaper, reported, for example, that Leonora Dewkins had been charged with concealment because she had "delivered of a baby, and buried it in a hole, and denied having given birth until the remains of the child were found." (4) This article examines 125 cases of infanticide and concealment of birth (hereafter, child murder cases (5)) reported in the Gleaner between the Morant Bay rebellion of 1865 and the island-wide riots of 1938, a period which has thus far received scant scholarly attention. (6) The Gleaner not only reported that women were arrested for killing their infant or concealing its birth but also provided reports of child murder cases that appeared in court. Most of the 75 court reports in the paper include the lawyers' addresses, the judge's verdict, a statement by the District Medical Officer (DMO), and also statements by the accused woman and her neighbours, friends and family. (7) The court reports mention four reasons why lower-class African Jamaican women committed child murder: a stigma attached to illegitimacy, poverty, social isolation, and mental illness. These reasons, however, do not fully explain why the accused women committed their crimes. This article aims to provide a more complete account of child murder cases in post-1865 Jamaica by placing the crimes within their socio-economic and cultural context and by drawing upon recent research on child murder.

22 décembre
Journal of Social History

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