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Babies killed to mask infidelity in Senegal

Senegalese women who get pregnant outside marriage commonly kill their babies out of fear and shame according to new research. In Senegal, abortion is illegal except to save a woman’s life and secret backstreet abortions are also rife. Husbands living and working away is one of many factors driving infanticide in the West African country, where many young women with unwanted pregnancies see their only choice is to kill their baby. Sexual promiscuity, poverty and ignorance about contraception are other factors, but shame around unplanned pregnancy especially by sex outside marriage is a common link.  "Infanticide has become the antidote to illicit affairs that result in pregnancy – to avoid gossip and shame to the family and to hide infidelity, especially when the woman is bound by marriage," said sociologist Aly Khoudia Diao. Thirty to forty per cent of women with unwanted pregnancies commit infanticide he estimates from his research. "It is a worrying statistic, and it's growing," he told the United Nations news service, IRIN. "Five to 10 per cent of these are linked to emigration," Diao said. "Sex is a physiological need. Some of these women marry quite young and sooner or later they will be pursued by other men. And in a moment of weakness they commit adultery."

In some cases the women’s families them into killing their own babies said the US’s Senegal Human Rights report. Methods ranged from burying them alive, putting them in septic tanks, or simply abandoning them along the road.  When the authorities find out the mother’s identity, she is arrested and prosecuted. In Louga, a city north of the capital, Dakar, at least two babies are known to have been killed by their mothers since October, and five cases of infanticide were reported in 2008.  "These infanticides are linked to emigration,” said Moustapha Ndour, gendarmerie commander. "The men leave their wives – who are very young – for two, five, 10 years.” He said one woman recently charged with the crime in Louga is married to a man living abroad. "She did not want anyone to ever see the child, which is why she threw the body into a well." Babies bodies have turned up in wells and in the streets; some are buried he added. The government backed organisation Development Gateway Senegal, said that women in Senegal are marginalised and lack access to resources and social services.