When moms and dads decide to take their own kids’ lives – Experts explain common reasons for filicide

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Nomboleko Siyamile is one of the parents who allegedly killed their own children.
Nomboleko Siyamile is one of the parents who allegedly killed their own children.

Just the thought of it sounds like a TV crime documentary – parents who kill their children.

In recent months, there have been several incidents of parents killing their biological children.

The latest one which shocked the nation was that of Nomboleko Simayile, the 32-year-old Ngcobo woman accused of killing all four of her children with a sledgehammer in their sleep.

Lizalise (11) Inganathi (9), Othalive (5) and Elihle (2), were found dead on 9 November after their mother allegedly confessed to her father that she had killed her children in Tsalaba Village in the Eastern Cape.

Two weeks after the gruesome murder, Nombokelo died while in police custody and the family is waiting for the postmortem results.

Read more | Mom accused of bludgeoning her 4 kids to death with a hammer may not be fit to stand trial, says NPA

In a separate incident, a 35-year-old Western Cape mother of two was arrested and charged with arson and murder after her children died in a shack fire. This incident took place in Grabouw.

“The arrest relates to an incident where Grabouw police were called out to the Waterworks informal settlement in the early hours of Friday. Upon arrival they discovered a shack that was locked and already on fire. During the inspection of the scene the charred bodies of two young boys, aged 3 and 5, were discovered,” police spokesperson Brigadier Novela Potelwa said.

Also in the Eastern Cape, a Ngqamakhwe minister was arrested for allegedly strangling his 13-year-old daughter to death.

“Her mother saw him leave the house through another gate. When she got to the house, she found her daughter dead. She screamed, drawing the attention of neighbours, who came running.”

The relative said the minister then went to the house where the funeral was being arranged and found the three-year-old. He allegedly hit her with a stick several times in the stomach and on the back of the head. He was allegedly stopped by a villager.

The relative said the minister then wandered off, rope in hand, to an area of trees and cliffs. However, one of the men in the family followed and confronted him. With help from other men, he was brought home, where the police arrested him.

The toddler was rushed to Butterworth Hospital, before being transferred to Frere Hospital in East London. Her mother reportedly works in Cape Town.

In a study published recently in the Journal of Investigative Psychology and Offender Profiling, two academics explained some of the motivations behind revenge child murders in South Africa. 

“Spousal revenge killers murder their own child to afflict hurt or retribution on the partner, spouse or ex-partner. In this type of murder, the spouse specifically wants the partner to suffer and feel misery,” according to Dr Melanie Moen from Stellenbosch University and Prof Christiaan Bezuidenhout from the University of Pretoria, the co-authors of the study.

The academics also argue that a form of narcissism – "an extreme self-involvement to a degree that it makes a person ignore the needs of others around them" – may also be present in a parent who kills their child. 

“The narcissistic rage culminates in the murdering of the child to punish and hurt the other parent and to restore control. The ‘narcissistic’ injury has been counterbalanced by an act of revenge filicide. Sadly, the receiving parent and child's needs have been negated.”

Unisa’s Dr Joshua Ndlela who is also a counselling psychologist in private practice agrees that such cases can be linked to psychosis.

“No parent in their right mind would deliberately kill their child. There is a deeper cause,” Dr Ndlela explains.

“Such cases happen when the parents have mental health problems. Even though some people may want to align it with witchcraft. The thing with psychosis is that it comes and goes.

“Patients will hear things that are not there, and they will also see things that are not there. In their minds, they see a dangerous animal that wants to harm them, and they do their best to eliminate it.”

He says some patients may have hallucinations and they are not in touch with reality.

Read more | Mysterious death of mom accused of bludgeoning her 4 kids to death with hammer being probed by Ipid

“They have delusions. They are not aware of their behaviour when they are in that state and regardless of what you say, they will only believe what they see, even if you were to try and convince them otherwise.

“Their thoughts are disorganized and illogical.”

While statistics say about 20% of mother can suffer from post-partum depression, especially in marginalised areas, Dr Ndlela says it is more than that.

“This goes beyond unmet parental expectations, sadness, anxiety or even depression. It is undiagnosed and untreated psychosis that could lead a parent to killing their child.”

Signs of not being in one's right-thinking mind

Some symptoms of psychosis may include the following:

  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Disorganised thinking and speech
  • Hear, see, or taste things others don't
  • Hang on to unusual beliefs or thoughts, no matter what others say
  • Pull away from family and friends
  • Stop taking care of yourself
  • Not be able to think clearly or pay attention.

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