By Aisha Jallow
Neonaticide – I didn’t even know that was a term until I read an article about it in this newspaper. Neonaticide and infanticide are two horrible deeds made by desperate women. Neonaticide is when you kill the baby when it is new born or up to 72 hours old. Infanticide is when the baby is up to 1 year old. So why committing such a horrible act? There are no easy answers to that, but the main reasons are poverty and fear. This is not a new phenomenom, in all societies of all times small babies have been killed for various reasons. The topic for this article is called angel maker. If you google that word you will find a story about especially one Swedish woman who had as her occupation for some years to make angels. It sounds strange, doesn’t it, but I will explain.
When the industrialization spread out in Sweden, at the end of 1800 and beginning of 1900, more and more people moved from the rural areas to the urban. There were not enough apartments for the mass invasion of people, so they lived very crowded. Both men and women worked in the factories, and the working conditions were often very bad and also dangerous. On the countryside people lived in extended families, where the elderly could look after the youngest children when the parents were working on the fields etc. This made it a little easier for the women, they knew that they didn’t have to worry about the kids. The children were looked after as the parents were occupied.
Life became very different when people decided to move in to the rural areas. The dream of living an easier life was shattered when they found that life was so much tougher in the cities. Some were lucky enough to find a one-room apartment for their family, others lived in shacks somewhere in the outskirts of the town. The elderly had stayed on the countryside, so there was no one who could help taking care of the children. Food was more expensive as they had to buy everything, they were used to be self sufficient but that wasn’t possible in a town. Rent had to be paid every month, and if you had a delay you would be kicked out. The landlords showed no mercy, there were so many waiting for somewhere to live so if one went out, the other came after before the door was even closed.
Unwanted children have always been born, some families were too big so they couldn’t feed another mouth. Unmarried women couldn’t care for their babies, both because of poverty but also the social stigma. These women tried to find someone who could take care of their children. Some gave them up for adoption, others came to visit the kids from time to time and if it was possible they went back for their kids. This didn’t always happen only with poor women, it also happened in what was called
“finer families”, rich families were the shame and the blame was just as severe as in poor ones.
Poverty can lead people to desperate actions, and that was what led some women to become angel makers. From the outside these women often looked like decent people, married and with a nice and clean home- a good place to raise a child. Other women lived alone in shacks, dirty and obviously poor, but their aim was the same – to make money out of other’s despair. The piteous mother went in secret to the angel maker and left her baby there together with some money. The money was supposed to be enough to provide for the baby’s needs, but it was never enough. This made the angel makers to take more and more babies in their care, so they could earn more money.
A lot of babies means a lot of sleepless nights, nappies to change and bottles to heat. The babies cried and that could become terribly irritating. To end this problem the angel makers came up with a solution – killing the babies.
The more babies they could get rid of this way, the more money they could earn. The married angel makers did the killing in secret, they received the baby when the husband had gone for work and had killed it before the husband came home again.
The easiest way to kill the baby was to drown it in a tub full of water. One of the women who was caught and prosecuted for this heinous act drowned the babies by placing them face down in a tub with water. She then placed a board on the back of the baby and then something heavy to hold the board down. The woman went out for a while and when she came back the baby was dead. The woman then burned the small body in the furnace and there was no trace left of any baby.
There is not a lot documentation of these cases, they were said to be wide spread but the police didn’t take them seriously at the beginning.
Small babies meant mostly trouble, and as all police officers at that time were men, they didn’t want to be bothered with ”women’s business”. Some of the women who had left their babies never came back for them. Things began to change one day when a woman came back for her child and couldn’t find it. She had written letters for the care giver to require if her child was in good health and thriving. She didn’t get any response so she became worried. Finally the mother managed to go back to the place where she had left the child and got to know that her child had died. The grieving mother wanted to know where her child was buried, but the care giver couldn’t tell her. This made the mother to contact the police and persuaded them to inquire the business of the care giver.
The police found out that the woman had killed 6 or 7 small babies the same way. The woman was sentenced to death and died in prison. This led to a change in the legal system, but it took several decades before being an unmarried mother became a stigma.
This long history lesson leads me back to the article in this newspaper a while ago. Unmarried mothers in The Gambia kill their babies out fear of the stigma and what their parents and others will say. Young innocent girls might have not understood that they were pregnant until it was too late. These Gambian women are not evil, they are not murderers, they are afraid! Desperation forces people to desperate actions and we as the society are to blame for that.
A girl/woman can’t become pregnant on her own – there is always a male impregnator involved. We can’t blame our girls for their innocence, that is how we have raised them. We can only blame the men who are unable to keep their private parts under control. We must also blame ourselves as a society that we are not protecting our girls better and that we are unable to forgive and forget. Anyone can make a mistake, but if God can forgive us – why can’t we?