September 19, 2007 Updated June 22, 2009
Nine recent cases of infanticide in France are causing the French to ask what is it in their psyche that makes the nation's mothers kill their newborns.
Infanticide is a crime no one living in France can commit; it is a crime that does not exist. Page through the French Penal Code and you won't even find the word. Yet, mothers killing their newborn babies is a French phenomenon. It is just that in France infanticide is called by another name.
Under Art. 221-4-1 of the French Penal Code, infanticide is qualified as the "assassination of a minor under the age of 15." It is "assassination" and not "homicide," because French law makes a distinction between slaying someone in a burst of sudden anger, like a crime passionnel when a spouse kills an unfaithful partner, and a premeditated taking of life. When there has been no medical supervision during pregnancy, no preparation for the confinement, and the pregnancy was concealed from everyone, even from the father of the child, then, French law declares the slaying as "premeditated." Thus, the crime becomes an "assassination," or, as it would be called in the United States, "first-degree murder." Until France abolished the death sentence in 1977, as a rule, punishment for first-degree murder was death on the guillotine; that of second-degree murder was life imprisonment, perpéte in French underworld slang, though it, too, could have fetched a sentence of capital punishment.