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A severed umbilicus : infanticide and the concealment of birth in Natal, 1860-1935.

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This dissertation is an historical examination of the crimes of infanticide and the concealment of birth in Natal between 1860 and 1935, where more than thirty such cases were tried before the Supreme, Magistrate, and District Circuit Courts. This study does not look at the crime of infanticide and concealment of birth in isolation, however, but also considers the crime in relation to cases of „child murder,‟ still-births, and abortion, since the term infanticide itself was highly contested and only fully defined in legal terms in South Africa by 1910. Some of the key themes this study covers include the ways in which legislation changed over time (for instance, the concept of “concealment of birth” altered to “infanticide” and the naming of the potential perpetrator from “woman” to “person.”); the problems posed for medical jurisprudence in trying to prove a separate existence of an infant from its mother; and whether a „live birth‟ had occurred before a charge could be proffered. In Natal, it is clear that legislation shaped interpretation and practice, but practice and interpretation, across many social and institutional settings, also shaped legal definitions. Other arguments raised in this study relate to the “instability of the womb” and how puerperal insanity and emotional or psychological mental evidence began to outweigh the physical, bodily evidence in the courtroom. Furthermore, such issues as illegitimacy, baby-farming, infant life protection, mothercraft, miscegenation, incest, respectability, and local cultural practices are integral to understandings of the possible underlying motives for the acts of infanticide and concealment of birth. By tracing the meaning and incidences of infanticide and the concealment of birth across the social spectrum, this study offers insights into a range of issues in social, legal and medical history. These include: the study of the domain of the family; of labour and political economy; of medico-jurisprudence and clinical medicine; of changing gender power and hierarchies; and of gendered discourses of criminality


Thesis (Ph.D.)-University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, 2011.


Infanticide--KwaZulu-Natal--History--19th century., Infanticide--KwaZulu-Natal--History--20th century., Childbirth--KwaZulu-Natal--History--19th century., Childbirth--KwaZulu-Natal--History--20th century., Theses--History.