(March 2002) In the United States, homicide is the 15th leading cause of death for children less than a year old, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Analyzing death certificate data for 1989–1998, the CDC found that infants faced the greatest risk of homicide during their first week of life. Among these homicides, some 83 percent occurred on the day of birth. The CDC further found that there was a greater risk of homicide during the first year of a child’s life than at any other time before age 17.

During the period 1989–1998, just over 3,000 infant homicides were reported, and more than 7 percent occurred on the day of birth, according to the March 8 issue of the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Of the homicides that occurred on the first day of life, 95 percent of the children were not born in a hospital.

The period with the second highest homicide risk for infants was the eighth week of life. The CDC said this might have been related to the reaction of a caregiver to an infant’s persistent crying, which is greatest at 6 weeks to 8 weeks of age. Among the homicides at this time, 89 percent of the perpetrators were found to be the victim’s mother or another female caregiver. The CDC reported that mothers who killed their infants were more likely to be adolescents with a history of mental illness.

The report notes preventing out-of-hospital births among women deemed to be “high risk” might reduce the risks for day-old children. It also points out that home visits and parenting programs that begin during pregnancy could help reduce the abuse of children during infancy.

Yvette Collymore is senior editor at PRB.

For More Information

See the March 8 issue of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report at www.cdc.gov/mmwr.