Mothers Who Kill

By Robert Whiston FRSA, Sept 17th, 2003; Updated with additional material on 26 May 2008

Victoria Climbie’s brutal death in 2000 rocked the conscience of Britain. News this week that yet again another little girl has been killed by her (single ?) mother has stunned the nation. This week, May 2008, a little 7 year-old girl, Khyra Ishaq, [1] has not been physically tortured to death, but in a land of relative plenty & family allowances – has been starved to death ! Is it inertia or political correctness that is torturing and killing children …. our children ?

7 year-old Khyra Ishaq from Birmingham was starved to death by her mother and died this week in hospital.

In Britain, in the last 30 years there have been more than 30 Public Enquires. Yet we seem no better prepared at preventing the sort of tragedies that Victoria Climbie’s death has come to symbolise.
Will the next 30 years bring another 30 ? Is our society civilised, or running out of control ?
Hardly has the ink dried on Lord Laming’s report into the death of Victoria Climbie (Jan 2003) than another young girl, Toni-Ann Byfield (Sept 2003), is shot dead in what appears to be a “Yardie” killing after yet another lapse of concentration by Social Services – this time Birmingham’s.
In 2007 Kimberley Harte, aged 23 and Samuel Duncan, 26, from north London poured boiling liquid over their disabled child’s hands, ripped out her hair, kicked her repeatedly in the groin and locked her in the toilet for over seven terrifying weeks – the worst abuse experts say they had ever seen.
In February 2005, 6-year-old Phillip O’Donnell was smothered to death by his mother and David Stocker, a 9-year-old, was poisoned a month later in March. In the same year Ukleigha Batten-Froggatt, a 6-year-old girl, was strangled by her mother’s boyfriend.

Public Enquiries

That some years one or more child homicides make it to the headlines is obvious but most years child homicides are dealt with quietly, and one has to ask why, given that in Britain over 100 children die each year from (very) non-natural causes ? [2]

That such murders have been put firmly on the political agenda cannot be denied, but the key word here is ‘political’. Nowhere has there been an impartial or dispassionate examination of child homicide figures.

As a society we do all that is expected of us; we lament, we wring our hands, we promise to learn the lessons, but in actuality, we do nothing.

Meanwhile, off-stage the lumbering leviathan that is government bureaucracy, having survived the momentary ordeal of the public limelight, merely sets up more committees that will report in 3 or 4 years time.

When action is taken it is to give errant social workers legal immunity from prosecution.

In this area of social policy, i.e. child abuse and child murder, public opinion is stubborn. Aided by superficial media coverage, the public tends to go with their gut feelings, grasping at stereotypes – but are we right to sink into that comfort zone of compliance ?

With political attention now turning to the government’s consultation paper on domestic violence (Safety and Justice, publ’d 2003), which is a thinly veiled attempt to further disenfranchise fathers from seeing their children, heavy weights such as Bob Geldof have waded into the father/child custody issue.

Misplaced Stereotypical Patriarchal Father Image

“Fathers who kill” fits our collective tunnel vision of comforting bigotry. This bolsters our collective but ‘highly cultivated’ view of the stereotypical patriarchal father mercilessly oppresses both wife and children.

Society, for all sorts of political reasons is spoon-fed the mantra and paradigm of ‘father bad, mother good.’ It is a product of anti-father propaganda and has no basis in fact.

Society cannot afford, for all sorts of reasons, to face up to the fact that the hand that rocks the cradles also kills the child. No where is this more evident than when judges have to decide child custody issues. They cannot afford to allow themselves be well informed and certainly not when the question of “in the best interest of the child” is so frequently cited in judgements.

In the long term, their sanity depends on pretending they do not know. They cannot afford to wrestle with their consciences and hope to survive.

Each Public Enquiry declares itself shocked at the horrific nature and lingering deaths that befall these hapless children – conveniently forgetting the recommendations of the previous enquiry only 12 months earlier.

A Virtuous Society ?

Great clouds of righteous indignation bellow from the front page of every national circulation newspaper. Politicians’ promise that the recommendations made this time will definitely be implemented – but they never are.

We, as a society, desperately want to be seen as blameless and yet vindicated by our concern of the vulnerable. Is this just an exercise in off-loading our guilt ?

Like all puffs of smoke this high minded fury – that masked a resentment of our being exposed – is gone in a twinkling, blown away on the breeze of new ‘breaking stories’.

The only significant and tangible change has been that affected following the Cleveland child abuse scandal in the late 1980s). Hurriedly legislation was passed to give children more rights and a more definite framework in public law cases. Unfortunately, the Act also hurriedly included private law cases, i.e. those dealing with chidlren after a divorce – and we are living with its poor draftsmanship to this very day.

The only sector that could be said to have benefited from the children Act 1989 is Social Service workers. Since 1989 their immunity from prosecution regardless of their incompetence has been enshrined despite legal challenges.

Subconsciously, we all associate murder with men and child murder the more so. Men are more capable of homicide. Indeed, this fact forms the basis of our police force, fire service, life boat crews, and armed forces, and arguably why in civilization terms the heterosexual family units not only survived but thrived.

Who else would be prepared to both kill and be killed ?

Reality Check

Nonetheless, the unpleasant fact is that in the domestic environment mothers pose the greatest threat to children both in terms of abuse and homicide. Even the proportions are constant over decades and between countries.

The graph below (Graph 1) is derived from data from “Home Office Criminal Statistics for England & Wales”, Table 4.4. and shows the age of the victim and the sex of their murderer.

It clearly shows that child deaths are most common when a child is under 1 year old. In fact, more homicides are committed in this age range than occur in what we might suppose is the most dangerous age ranges, i.e. when teenagers and those in their early twenties believe themselves to be invincible.

This homicide ‘bunching’ is reinforced by data from America (see Graph 2) which shows the trend for homicide by age follows a similar pattern.

That child homicide is greatest when aged under 12 months should cause us great concern

It is at a time when a mother has the greatest and closest input of either parent and the child most helpless. But apparently it does not. We seem blissfully unaware of the potential for tragedy.

Is this because too few people know ?

Graph 1

Any story adversely affecting the life or health of a child, such as the threat from cancer, organ failure or crippling disease, is guaranteed to focus our attention and increase newspaper sales.

The persistent aversion to coverage by the press of what should be a sure-fire audience magnet defies explanation and stretches one’s credulity.

Another aspect worth closer examination is that more boy babies are murdered than girl babies. By looking at the “all ages” group in the general homicide tables we can see that overall, homicides of men and boys are more than double that of women and girls.

The picture from all English speaking countries, where language makes comparison easier, shows a similar trend. For instance, in 1986 Dr. Cyril Greenland, University of Toronto, undertook a study of child abuse morbidity for the years 1973 – 1982. He found that of the 100 children who had suffered abuse, and or neglect and who had subsequently died, mothers were the largest perpetrators. Mothers accounted for 38 deaths, while 12 death were ascribed to “both parents” and 13 to fathers.

Almost 20 years earlier, an analysis by Steel & Pollock in 1968 showed that in 50 out of 57 cases women were found to be the child abuser. Bonnie & Sclare, in 1969, discovered that in seven out of ten cases that they examined women were the abusers.

One would imagine that such considerations would make an article analysing these worrying trends immediately saleable, especially to a specialist magazine – but not a bit of it.
‘Community Care’ describes itself as “the foremost English journal for social care professionals”.
It boasts that it is the“…. leading social care information provider – a must for all social care professionals”, and it is convinced that it “ …. has helped shape social care policy”, by embracing the “…. realities of new developments.” (http://www.communitycare.co.uk)

Such claims, particularly the last one, naturally make it a target for articles revealing to ‘care professionals’, who have to work with children and families, the distribution of child abuse and murder.
The commentary you are now reading together with the graphs were offered to ‘Community Care’ who a first embraced it (Natalie Valios, July 8th 2003), but who, after many redrafts and an editors meeting (email from Katie Leason, Sept 8th 2003), wrote:

“ … we will not be publishing [the article], primarily because we are not convinced by the arguments concerning female murderers.”

How ironic then that ‘Community Care’, which rejected these child abuse graphs and tables (derived from government data) now find it self compeled after the Khyra Ishaq horror (May 2008), to run child abuse headlines, e.g. “Essential information on child protection”.
Had ‘Community Care’ not been “in denial” in 2003 this data would have given it a head start over all others publications.

A search of Google reveals ‘Community Care’ as apparently heavily involved in all the issues surrounding child abuse. It lists the Victoria Climbie case, Lord Laming’s report, child protection issues, the children’s commissioner, the Soham tragedy etc. But nothing is meaningful examined in a journalistic way below the headlines. Even though the child protection register and the children’s database are discussed they fail to bring enlightenment to the public.

No sooner had the Khyra Isha story broken than the emphasis switched was away from the errant mother to “the system” and what had gone wrong with it.
All the weighty daily nationals – the Telegraph, The Guardian and The Times – all moved from the shock horror of the starvation of the 5 children and the death of a sixth, to the pointing the finger at state and the failure of Society which is somehow seen as the real cause of death.

This tells us two things; one that mothers are excused and are invariably blameless and must have been led astray; and two, that children no longer belong to parents but are the property and responsively of the state. Amazingly, Khyra Ishaq’s father also appears to blame the system.

Deborah Orr, of The Independent and known usually for her sanguine but balanced commentaries falls headlong into condemning both men and the system. After casting unwarranted doubts on the role of the biological father she finally veers off into the real world by blaming “the two people who by definition were most derelict in their duty were the two who brought them into the world.”

The only problem with this attitude is that the social constructs and the socio-legal framework now
dictate that the state expects – indeed, it insists – that fathers depart the field of battle for their children’s affections at the point of family break-up (see Annex 1, Reply to Deborah Orr).

Until government credibly addresses, one, the reason why up to 40% of all fathers lose contact with their children after 1 or 2 years, and two, why approx 70% of single mothers confess they perennially thwart contact by fathers, these tragedies will continue to be reported.

Pictures Talk

Comparable American data relating to the age of children when murdered during 1989 – 1990 in the form of rate per 100,000 is given below (Graph 2).

It can be seen how both Graph 1 and Graph 2 follow similar rises and falls at similar to identical age groups.

Graph 2

Among homicides during the first week of life, 82.6% occurred on the day of birth (see Graph 3), 9.2% on the second day, and 8.2% during the remainder of the week. After the first 2 days of life, the number of deaths in the remainder of the first week was comparable to the number of deaths in the second week of life.

Graph 3

Overall, 243 (7.3%) of all infant homicides occurred on the day of birth. When homicide rates on the first day of life and during the remainder of infancy were compared with homicide rates during later age groups (see Graph 3).

The homicide rate on the first day of life was at least ten times greater than the rate during any other time of life. [3]

American data is far more sophisticated than that currently available in Britain. In the US, during 1989 -1998, a total of 3,312 infant homicides were reported (defined as a person aged under 1 year at death). This creates a rate of 8.3 per 100,000 person years.

Of these, 81 (2.4%) of the 109,354 infant deaths were excluded because of a missing date of birth.

From Graph 1 (above) it can be deduced that British statistical data, available from the Home Office lists infant deaths only by year. The US ‘Variation in Homicide Risk During Infancy’ also lists homicides by age in months as a percentage of infant homicides (see Graphs 2 & 3 above).

Mothers Murder

Any child which is killed at the hands of either a father or mother represents a tragedy, but at too many conferences held by the ‘caring professions’ the emphasis is wrongly placed purely on the actions of father. Women and mothers are painted in a very different light.
However, Christine Alder & Ken Polkof the University of Melbourne, in their book “Child Victims of Homicide”, (ISBN-13:9780521002516), spell out that:-

“Children account for 10–20% of all homicide victims in Australia, UK, Canada and US. The most vulnerable time has been found to be the first year of life and, in particular, the first day of life. Unlike other forms of homicide where men are by far the most likely perpetrators, studies show that women are just as likely as men to commit child homicide. Using these findings, the authors arrange their investigations along the dual lines of gender and position inside or outside the family. They ask who are the most likely killers of infants – mothers or fathers ? Who are the most likely killers of adolescents – family or outsiders? They also consider patterns in suicide/homicides.”

This is a compelling study drawing on Australian case studies and includes comparative statistics from the UK and North America. The authors then go into greater detail and analysis by gender.
The authors ask who are the most likely killers of infant children – mothers or fathers ? Who are the most likely killers of adolescents–family or outsiders ?
They find that unlike other forms of homicide – where men are by far the most likely perpetrators – child homicide reveals a totally different pattern of perpetrator.

Graph 4 Murder in Families, (perpetrators by quantity) (US)

Source : US Dept of Justice, NCJ 143498

http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/abstract/mif.htm and http://christianparty.net/juststat.htm

Graph 4 (above) shows the number of infants and children murdered in the US by sex of the perpetrator, i.e. mothers fathers and “others”. Once again the UK authorities do not provide this degree of analysis. However, the category ‘fathers’ and ‘others’ both in the US and UK should be viewed with caution as statistical sources commonly include – mainly due to the casualisation and serialisation of relationships – both current boyfriend and cohabitee of the single mother as nominally the child’s father, e.g. Khyra Ishaq’s mother was not living with the girl’s biological father but another man/boyfriend.
Nonetheless, even given this shortcoming the number of homicides by ‘fathers’ barely registers on the graph (see Graph 4).

The Yearly slaughter

The other obvious source for the number of childhood deaths from injury, in Britain, is the Mortality Statistics produced by the ONS (Office of National Statistics). These show that there were 386 deaths from accidents and ‘adverse effects’ (E800-E949) in England and Wales in 1997 (see Tables 5.1, 5.2, and 5.3). [4]

Corresponding figures for 1998 and 1999 were 338 and 347 deaths respectively. These figures contrast markedly with those for the early 1990s when over 500 deaths per year were reported.

Dr Elizabeth Towner, study showed that in the three year period 1997-1999, the leading causes of unintentional injury deaths in childhood were motor vehicle traffic accidents (46%), with pedestrian deaths accounting for half of these.

Other leading causes of death included suffocation and foreign bodies (14%), fire and flames (9%), drowning and submersion (9%), falls (5%) and poisoning (3%). [5]

Table 1: Child Homicides – United Kingdom (per 1m) (*)

1995-1999

2000

England and Wales*

397

98

Scotland

50

10

Northern Ireland

8

3

 

* Year April 1st – March 31st from 1998 (table excludes Dunblane killings)

Dr Elizabeth Towner has also stated that:-

““For all injury types boys were twice as likely to die from an unintentional injury compared with girls. Young children are particularly vulnerable for some types of injury, for example 70% of children who died in house fires were aged under five years. Pre-school children are more likely to die from an injury in the home environment and school-aged children are most likely to die in the road environment. There is a cluster of factors relating to social deprivation associated with the non-use of smoke alarms. The absence of a smoke alarm is a significant risk factor in fatal house fires. In a study of deaths of children in house fires (Roberts 1995) found that the greatest risk was for those living in the poorest council housing and in temporary accommodation. Single parent families were at significantly increased risk. If academics and Society can accept that there is a higher risk of child fatality associated with single families why do we find it so difficult to associate poor outcomes, high morbidity and mortality etc, with those same SMHs (single mother households) ? Particularly when, for all types of injury, boys are at twice as much risk than girls ?”

Information on the notification of child deaths was also provided by the Department of Health to Reder and Duncan for their study into child deaths between April 1990 and March 1995 (Reder and Duncan, 1999). Their figures are depicted in” lost innocents: A Follow-up Study of Fatal Child Abuse” (p.23) are as follows.

Between 1990-91 and 1994-95 on average there were consistently 54 to 55 non-accidental deaths that were regarded as requiring more investigation. Reder and Duncan also found that the parameter definitions of child abuse set by the Dept of Health and Coroners were ambiguous. They were not precise enough to decide whether maltreatment caused or contributed to a child’s death. [6]

Taking account of these different definitions and methods of recording, the Department of Health estimates that there are about 90 child deaths each year that are the subject of a full Serious Case Review. The link between Serious Case Reviews and fatal child abuse is not straightforward. Serious Case Reviews include non-fatal abuse as well as natural causes or accidental death, especially where other concerns are raised. There is also variation in practice between Area Child Protection Committees (ACPCs) in their response to a reported child death. Under-reporting of fatal child abuse has also been noted (Wilczynski, 1994; Creighton, 2001) particularly where the cause of death is uncertain as in Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (Hobbs et al., 1995).

Information on child homicide is equally uncertain (Browne and Lynch, 1995; Pritchard 1996); hence the continued use of the widely quoted statistic ‘on average, between 1 to 2 children each week die as a result of abuse or neglect’ (NSPCC, 2001).

Historic Consistency

A report, written by Bell, as far back as 1986, states that “Evidence was found that mothers are more likely than fathers to be abusive”. While Benedict et al, (1985) found that mothers were identified in 38.7% of cases as the abuser and fathers 18.4% rising to 31% where cohabitation, i.e. boyfriends, step fathers, were involved.

Other surveys that perhaps encompassed a wider age range and perhaps incorporated ‘reconstituted family’ and living styles, while still finding mothers and women as the primary cause of child abuse, were not so clear cut in their results. Perhaps for this reason ­Brienes & Gordon could only report in ‘The Health and Welfare Canada Report 1989, Family Violence; a Review of Theoretical and Clinical literature’, that “the physical abuse of children is the only form of family violence in which women are the perpetrators as often as men”.

But Richard Gelles, one of the pioneers of surveys into domestic violence (1979) is quoted in the Health and Welfare Canada Report 1989, Family Violence; a Review of Theoretical and Clinical literature as saying. “Child abusers are more likely to be women”.

NSPCC researcher, Dr. Susan ­Creighton (1979, UK), found that ‘…. mothers and mother substitutes are suspected abusers in 44% of cases and fathers and father substitutes in 46.5% of cases’.

The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC, Britain), found that, “ …. 65% of child abuse is committed by women whereas only 8% of child abuse is committed by biological fathers.’

However, figures compiled by the US Dept of Justice, entitled “Deaths in Families”, (1999), re-affirms that over the decades mothers account for most child homicides and that boys are more likely to be victims than girls.

Table 2: “Deaths in Families”, US Dept of Justice, NCJ 143498, p. 2
http://www.cdc.gov/nchswww/data/nvsr47_9.pdf
[7]

 

Boys

Boys

Girls

Girls

Total

1-4 year old

5-14 year old

1-4 year old

5-14 year old

Suicide

– –

225

– –

77

302

Killed By Fathers

7

9

9

7

32

Killed By Mothers

167

243

161

158

729

All Causes

3,349

5,003

2,599

3,327

14,278

Homicide

214

311

206

203

934

Further official US data that underscores the discrepancy between the sexes and is comparable to the British figures for homicide of children aged under 1 year old (see Graph 1 & 2, above) is contained in the National Institutes of Health and in CDC data. The latter’s press release of Oct 21, 1998, “Researchers Identify Risk Factors for Infants Most Likely to be Homicide Victims”, should dispel any lingering doubts and misconceptions. [8]

In the study, appearing in the October 22 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine, the authors also found that the likelihood of being killed was greatest for infants whose mothers were less than 15 years old, had less than 12 years of school, or did not have pre-natal care. One half of the infants killed were dead by the fourth month of life. [9]

The fact that the numbers of fatherless children continues to climb, only fuels the likelihood of homicide, particularly when never-married-mothers are outstripping the numbers of divorced mothers. Can such an attrition rate be justified in the name of relaxing our moral values and embracing the allegedly new living arrangements and alternative lifestyles ? Is lasciviousness a fair exchange for children ?

Is the de-stigmatising of illegitimacy worth the price, or even comparable with, the previous regime of adoption or abortion ? On both sides of the argument each is said to appear to be equally harsh on children. These are questions that television, that opiate of the people, never wants to seriously ask.

In Britain one only has to recall a few of the infamous cases of child deaths to see that most are linked (though the public was rarely told at the time) to ‘fatherless families’ in the form of never married single mothers, or divorcees, or to their new-found boyfriends. This has been the pattern since the distant days of Marie Cowell (1974) and Rikky Neave (1995), to name but a few of the thirty, to the Climbie enquiry of the present day (2002-03).

“Broken Homes & Battered Children” by Robert Whelan, is one of many studies in the U.K. and elsewhere that shows children in the care of two biological married parents are safer. Children in the care of single mothers are 33 times more likely to be seriously injured and 73 times more likely to be killed. [10] These are the findings new, nor are they just ‘re-discovered’.

We never see television adverts depicting women as child murderers or abusers. Overwhelmingly, NSPCC television adverts (the pre-eminent British child protection charity) [11] routinely depict men as child abusers. We never see more honest adverts depicting women as the principal perpetrators of child murder and abuse. For the unpleasant fact is that mothers pose the greatest threat to children in terms of abuse and deaths.

One is, therefore, forced to the conclusion that the primary reason for depicting men as the main culprits is to guarantee a flow of funds – enough donations to more than handsomely cover the cost of television advertising.

While the NSPCC’s efforts to maximize fund raising is to be applauded, is this approach appropriate for the Advertising Standards Authority criteria of “decent, honest and truthful” ? Or is the series of adverts, in fact, unprincipled, deceitful and untruthful ?

Is the graceless rush to secure increased revenue wholly ethical ? Indeed, is this method of securing assured funding from the public entirely compatible with the expectations of the Charity Commissioners ?

World League Table

In 2001, UNICEF published ‘A League Table of Child Deaths by Injury in Rich Nations’ (UNICEF 2001). This used World Health Organization mortality data and ranked 26 (out of 29) members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) by the number of injury deaths for every 100,000 children for the period 1991 to 1995 (ref Table 3.1) Sweden, the United Kingdom, Italy and the Netherlands occupied the top four places on the table – all with child injury death rates below 7 per 100,000. At the foot of the table, i.e. worst, were the United States and Portugal with death rates twice the level of the four leading countries and Mexico and South Korea with child injury death rates twice to four times higher.

END

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Annex 1

Reply to Deborah Orr

FAO letters Editor. May 25th 2008

Dear Sir,

RE: ” What went wrong with this family ?” by Deborah Orr:

Deborah Orr must remember that the construct and the socio-legal influences now dictate that the state expects, indeed, insists that fathers depart the field of battle for their children’s affections at the point of family break-up.

Therefore, Deborah’s comment about some sort of “continuing mystery of the whereabouts of …. the actual father” is written either out of ignorance (which is doubtful) or during a spasm when she forgot that up to 40% of all fathers lose contact with their children after 1 or 2 years and approx 70% of single mothers confess they perennially thwart contact by fathers.

The decision to move in with a girl friend who has had children from another person is, indeed, an important and sensitive one (Deborah should try it one day ! ). But why focus on the male becoming a “stepfather” therein ?
Why not focus on the judgement – or lack of it – on the part of the child’s mother ?
If as Deborah declares “step-parent” is a term conferred so casually contradicts all wise counsel” then arguably it must follow that from here on in society must recognise that “mother” is a term conferred so casually it contradicts all wise counsel”.

Deborah is right to talk about our sloppy labelling of anyone as a step-father or father-figures. But don’t try to lay that monkey on the back of men’s groups – who have been at the vanguard of alerting public and politicians alike to the incipient danger of feminist inspired dogma – and the differences in “outcomes”.

No, Deborah, that particular monkey has to be put on the back of feminists and feminist-inspired family policy, which in the name of ‘the child’s best interests’ have pushed ahead with policies what are the absolute opposite.

Yours truly,
Robert Whiston FRSA

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What went wrong with this family ?

By Deborah Orr, The Independent, Saturday, 24 May 2008

(Bold type added)

A full inquiry is being called for. But blame aplenty is being apportioned already. No one knows exactly what ghastly events led to poor seven-year-old Khyra Ishaq’s death from malnutrition, as her five siblings grew weaker alongside her. But it is self-evident that she was let down by every single adult who might have been able to make a positive intervention in her short life.
It is a mystery that the school that she and her siblings attended was so incurious about the removal of all the children, especially as there are allegations that the trouble began over bullying at the institution.

It is baffling that an educational social worker made only one visit to the home of the children, before letting what should have been an extremely worrying situation drift. Reports suggest that the social worker could not gain access to the house. This is the very opposite of a satisfactory explanation as to why no further action was taken.
It is sad, but very far from untypical, that the community living around the family was detached enough from the household for alarm to have stirred in nobody until it was too late for Khyra.
And it is perfectly logical that the two arrests that have so far been made were of Khyra’s mother, Angela Gordon, and the man who lived with her, Junaid Abuhamza. The two have been charged with neglect and have been remanded in custody until next Wednesday.

What is not logical, and what occurs routinely when “complicated” families are reported in the news, is that Mr Abuhamza is being described as the children’s “stepfather”. How readily we accept the idea that any man who has a live-in relationship with a mother also takes on a formal parental role.

Fathers’ rights groups were quick to suggest that fatherhood was being undermined by the dropping of the need of IVF clinics to “consider a child’s need for a father”. Yet the unchallenged acceptance that any old boyfriend can move in with some children and earn the title “stepfather” seems an incredibly lazy dismissal of the gravity of a guardian’s responsibilities, and one that should be scrutinised with care.

This is not just a question of semantics. The decision to move in with another person’s children should be seen as an extremely important and sensitive one. Becoming a “stepfather” should not be a commitment that is taken on lightly. Yet the fact that “step-parent” is a term conferred so casually contradicts all wise counsel that suggests caution and restraint.

Then there is the continuing mystery of the whereabouts of Abu Zair Ishaq (formerly Delroy Frances), the actual father of these six children. Only his sister, Valerie Frances, has discussed his role in this terrible story, as yet. Ms Frances had not seen her nephews and nieces for six months, but had been troubled enough about their welfare to turn up by coincidence as the tragedy was unfolding.
No doubt the woman was in shock, but nevertheless her complaint that she had not been informed officially about what was happening still seemed churlish under the circumstances. Ms Frances also expressed unhappiness that no attempt that she knew of had been made to inform Mr Ishaq of the condition of his children. It would seem that the welfare of his sons and daughters is accepted as being the responsibility of everybody except Mr Ishaq.

Whenever one suggests in the press that parental abandonment of children is, in itself, neglect, a deluge of angry missives from estranged fathers arrives, explaining that it is vindictive mothers who are generally to blame when an absent father cannot gain access to his children. When and if Mr Ishaq turns up, it will certainly be illuminating to hear his side of this story.
In the meantime, angry as we all may feel that the state has let down these children, the two people who by definition were most derelict in their duty were the two who brought them into the world.
It is possible that there are plausible explanations for the breakdown in their parenting. But the lessons that can be learned about what went wrong inside this family are every bit as important as the lessons that can be learned from the failures of the child welfare services of Birmingham.

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“Khyra’s father speaks out”

Croydon Guardian, Sun 25 May 08

The father of a girl who allegedly died of starvation has vowed to find out how she was allowed to die and warned there would be “repercussions” following her death.
An inquiry has been launched after seven-year-old Khyra Ishaq, from Handsworth, Birmingham, died in hospital last week after reportedly being found in an emaciated state.
Speaking about his daughter’s death for the first time Khyra’s biological father Ishaq Abu Zaire told the BBC: “I’m just as ignorant as everyone else as to what happened. But like I say … you can put your house on it, that we’re going to find out, one way or another, we are going to find out exactly what happened here.”
He added: “I am upset, I am very upset and there are going to be consequences and repercussions I can assure you.”
An independent panel has met in Birmingham to discuss the circumstances surrounding Khyra’s death after her and her five siblings are reported to have been in an emaciated state when paramedics were called to their home in Leyton Road, Handsworth.
Mr Abu Zaire said that he felt let down by the authorities following his daughter’s death.
He said: “As far as I can see, because I have a dead child right now, they did nothing, they did nothing. They never lifted a finger to do anything… so they are responsible as well.”
Earlier, Khyra’s grandmother Isolene Clark described the heartache of losing her grandchild: “I cannot express the pain and hurt in my heart over the loss of my granddaughter and the treatment of my grandchildren. I am in shock and cannot understand how or why this has happened in a country that is supposed to protect children and see that no harm comes to them.”
Results of a post-mortem examination are still awaited on Khyra’s body, but sources have said the youngster is believed to have died of starvation.
Angela Gordon, 33, and Junaid Abuhamza, 29 – Khyra’s mother and her partner – have appeared in court charged with causing or allowing her death through neglect.

© Copyright Press Association Ltd 2008, All Rights Reserved.

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Footnotes:
[1] “Two charged with neglect after girl’s death” [ Khyra Ishaq, aged 7 was starved to death ], The Independent, PA, May 21st 2008 http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/two-charged-with-neglect-after-girls-death-831798.html

[2] Each year, in recent times, the Department of Health has received about 120 notifications of child deaths or incidents of serious harm to children involving potential major public concern. These numbers include notifications of the death, from any cause of any child being looked after by a local authority, or of any child who dies in residential care. By no means all of these 120 or so notifications result in an Area Child Protection Committee case review. Currently the Department receives on average one Section 8/ACPC case review each week.

[3] Variation in Homicide Risk During Infancy – United States, 1989 – 1998 http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5109a3.htm

[4] See ONS publications DH3, “Mortality Statistics: Childhood, infant and perinatal ” and DH4 “Mortality Statistics: Injury and poisoning”

[5] Dr Elizabeth Towner, Department of Child Health, University of Newcastle
http://www.doh.gov.uk/accidents/pdfs/childhoodinjury.pdf

[6] Table 1: ‘Part 8’ notifications of child deaths to Department of Health 1990-95

[7] This can be found at http://www.geocities.com/Heartland/Garden/8434/ca.htm and Bureau of Justice Statistics http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/pub/pdf/mf.pdf

[8] United States “Department of Health and Human Services”, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Variation in Homicide Risk During Infancy – US 1989 – 1998. http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5109a3.htm

[9] CDC report : ‘Newborns Face Highest Murder Risk’ , Most infant victims born outside of hospitals, study finds (Oct 1998). http://usgovinfo.about.com/library/weekly/aa031202a.htm

[10] “Broken Homes & Battered Children” by Robert Whelan, IEA http://www.heritage.org/Research/Family/BG1535.cfm

[11] NSPCC – National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. Founded in 1884. It is the UK’s leading charity specialising in child protection and the prevention of cruelty to children.

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3 responses to “Mothers Who Kill

  1. very touching and informative

  2. If children spend more time in the company of their mothers, then surely we would expect there to be more killings attributed to mothers?

    What are the figures when proportionately adjusted?

  3. DearJohn, That is known as the proximty theory and it does not stand up to scrutiny. I could go into masses of detail but in terms of being proportionately adjusted it is not worth looking in that direction. Search the web for why not and in particular look, eg, at what Warren Farrell (Father and Child Reunion) has written on this topic.

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