Globe and Mail

Statistics don't reflect anguish of some mothers

By MARGARET PHILP
Source: Statistics Canada (incorrectly interpretted)
Wednesday, July 18, 2001 – Print Edition, Page A6
The Globe and Mail

Police are treating the car trunk where Yaso Mahendran was discovered clinging to life next to the dead bodies of her two children as the scene of a crime that seldom happens in Canada.

When she was charged in hospital with two counts of murder in the deaths of three-year-old Sageeve and five-year-old Shiyami, Ms. Mahendran became one of the handful of women who will be accused of murdering their own children in Canada this year.

That several mothers have been charged with killing their children over the past few months may leave a different impression, but statistics show that parents killing their children is rare. And when it does happen, more youngsters are killed by their fathers than by their mothers.

Only a few weeks ago, the Centre for Justice Statistics released figures on child murders showing that of the 376 children killed by parents between 1991 and 1999, 45 per cent died at the hands of their fathers while 34 per cent were slain by their mothers. But no statistics can predict the unbearable anguish of a woman who gives birth to children and a few years later is charged with snatching those lives away.

Over years of counting murder convictions against mothers, criminologists say that women who kill children tend to be young, isolated, struggling to make ends meet, and overwhelmed by the pressures of life.

"The children who are killed by women are killed in a circumstance where women are quite young -- almost like children having children -- and are overwhelmed by their circumstances," said Neil Boyd, a professor of criminology at Simon Fraser University.

But the Scarborough mother, a Sri Lankan immigrant whose beloved husband died last year in an accident at the furniture factory where he worked, was not young and poor.

The company that employed her husband gave her $200,000, and charitable donations were left with suicide notes and burial clothes on her bed. Neither was she isolated. She owned a house in a close-knit Tamil community on the same street as relatives who visited regularly.

Mothers are more likely to end the lives of children under the age of 7. And though fathers turn to firearms, mothers are inclined to suffocate or strangle their children.

Last month, 22-year-old Solange Beaupré, a single unemployed woman raising two children, was charged with manslaughter in the stabbing deaths of her two daughters, 18-month-old Anais and six-month-old Camille.

Police found Ms. Beaupré bathed in blood but conscious, with her wrists slashed, sitting on the balcony of her apartment in Granby, 60 kilometres southeast of Montreal.

Rie Fujii, 23, a poor student from Japan studying English at a Calgary college, is undergoing psychiatric assessment after the body of her 18-month-old son, Dominic, was found decomposing on the floor of the apartment she had recently vacated. Her three-month-old daughter, Gemini, is missing and police have scoured the Bow River for the body.

Ms. Fujii is charged with failing to properly dispose of a body.

Canada's Criminal Code acknowledges a link between postpartum depression -- the most common complication of childbirth -- and the urge to kill a child.

In a provision that dates back to 1948, when juries were loath to convict mothers, women who are accused of killing children and can prove they have not fully recovered from childbirth are charged with infanticide, which carries a maximum penalty of five years, half the minimum for full-fledged murder.

It is a seldom-used charge, but for some, such as Prof. Boyd, the law seem to hand mothers an excuse of mental illness that renders them less guilty in law than fathers who kill.
Homocides against children
Family slayings of children and youth by age group of victim, 1991-1999

                              Age of victim


Accused       Infant  1-3    4-6   7-11  12-17   Total


Father          56     44     22     43     27     192


Stepfather       4     17      5      3      4      33


Mother          55     45     28     11      7     146


Stepmother       1      2      1      1      0       5


Sibling          2      2      1      4     11      20


Other family*    8      1      3      4     14      30


TOTAL          126    111     60     66     63     426

-*Includes all other family members related through blood, marriage, adoption or foster care.

Copyright 2001 Globe Interactive, a division of Bell Globemedia Publishing Inc.