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Between denial and recognition: the child's body in judicial infanticide proceedings

Natacha Vellut

Research framework: A retrospective research conducted in France on the suspicious deaths of children under 12 months of age enabled to create two databases: one of judicial data, the other of press articles. The analysis of those data led to several publications specifying the psychosocial factors of infanticide and characterizing how the police, justice and media deal with those homicides.

Objectives: The study focuses on the place given to the body of the deceased child in the infanticide judicial process to identify the concepts of child which underlie the testimonies and practices of the various protagonists (parents, accusation, witnesses, police and justice agents).

Methodology: The analysis is based on textual data extracted from judicial files and press articles. It draws a comparison between infanticide cases that are similar in regard to incriminated acts yet different in the way they were dealt with by the police or the media thus presenting heterogeneous judicial conclusions.

Results: The body of the deceased child is considered a body object as opposed to a body subject. This body object is used by the various protagonists/participants in the procedure, with a view, conscious or not, to influence the judicial decision. He is then a political body subject to the rivalry of different legitimacy.

Conclusions: Various factors contribute to the objectification and instrumentalization of the body: death (which facilitates the conception of a body/corpse as an object), the lack of social recognition of the child due to their young age, the idea that a child belongs to their parents. The concept of child as a person in their own right remains undefined.

Contribution: Those infanticide cases lead to question the concept of child as a person. It appears that both conceptions coexist: a child is a person from birth or it is not quite a person before it has been named, developed social relationships and not had a public and social existence.