Many pre-modern societies have a history of infanticide, and the stories of survivors are prominent in Western literature. In fact, one estimate for Europe in the eighteenth century suggests that a quarter of all children in foundling hospitals were abandoned; the odds of these children living to adulthood were remarkably low. Many of these stories involve children who have been neglected, abused, or died of neglect. Many of these children were not even properly fed by their wet nurse.
The impact of abandonment is most apparent in preschoolers. Since preschoolers have very limited perceptions and a strong sense of right and wrong, they often interpret the departure of their parents as rejection. They may regress to childhood behaviors such as thumb-sucking, bed-wetting, or temper tantrums, as well as clinging to a favorite toy or blanket. Some children may even develop a fear of being alone and the darkness.
The story of Oedipus is an early example of abandonment in literature. As an infant, Oedipus is abandoned by a herdsman. He is later found by a shepherd and grows up to marry his biological mother. While many mythological figures have rescued children, only a few of them actually died. Therefore, Boswell’s story is not definitive. Many historians and anthropologists have criticized his picture.
A recent study conducted in La Paz, Bolivia, focused on 124 abandoned street children. The study sample included a 7 km2 area with the main section being a city block. Children were surveyed by day and night and interviewed by researchers. Statistically significant differences between these groups were found when comparing abandoned street children to previously abandoned street children. The study also found significant differences in gender between abandoned street children and orphans. While many studies are limited in the number of children found on the streets, the findings suggest that there is a significant need to improve the conditions of abandoned children.
Although state governments traditionally bear the responsibility of raising and caring for abandoned children, federal involvement in the process began in the early 1970s. The Social Security Act, which created the Aid to Dependent Children program, gave states a broader mandate to take care of abandoned children. As more women turned to welfare and single-parent families, the financial burden of government increased. As a result, U.S. Congress began calling for stronger child-support enforcement provisions.
Another example of homicidal neglect involves confinement of infants or children. The case of Baby India in Georgia shows how infants can be abandoned and find their way home. But the sad reality is that many abandoned children face a tragic end – and the child can never be fully rescued. The stories of abandoned babies have been around for years, and the lesson is to never abandon a baby. It is the responsibility of every parent to protect their children, so never abandon a baby.
The Industrial Revolution is another source of abandoned children. In the United States and Britain, it was the industrial revolution that disrupted families and resulted in child labor and abuse. Lord Ashley estimated that thirty thousand abandoned children were living in metropolitan London in 1848. In New York, photographer Jacob Riis documented the conditions of children in tenement houses. The situation has become even more tragic. As the Industrial Revolution spread and urbanization made life increasingly difficult, many children found themselves on the streets without homes.