ⓘ Concealing birth


ⓘ Concealing birth

Concealing a birth is the act of a parent failing to report the birth of a child. The term is sometimes used to refer to hiding the birth of a child from friends or family, but is most often used when the appropriate authorities have not been informed about a stillbirth or the death of a newborn. This is a crime in many countries, with varying punishments.


1. Australia

Australian Capital Territory

Section 47 of the Crimes Act 1900 creates the offence of concealment of birth.


2. Canada

Section 242 of the Canadian Criminal Code. French


3. England and Wales, and Northern Ireland

In England and Wales, and in Northern Ireland, section 60 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861 creates the offence of concealing the birth of a child:

If any woman shall be delivered of a child, every person who shall, by any secret disposition of the dead body of the said child, whether such child died before, at, or after its birth, endeavour to conceal the birth thereof, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and being convicted thereof shall be liable, at the discretion of the court, to be imprisoned for any term not exceeding two years.

The words "with or without hard labour" omitted in the first place were repealed for England and Wales by section 12 of the Criminal Justice Act 1948.

The proviso to this section, as extended by any subsequent enactment, was repealed for England and Wales by section 10 of, and paragraph 131a of Schedule 2 to, and Part III of Schedule 3 to, the Criminal Law Act 1967. Originally, the proviso allowed the jury to find an alternative verdict of this offence on a charge of murder. In England and Wales, it was subsequently extended to allow the jury to find an alternative verdict of this offence on a charge of child destruction or a charge of infanticide.

Section 60 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861 is framed on section 14 of the Offences against the Person Act 1828 which applied to England, including Wales and Berwick and section 17 of the 10 Geo 4 c 34, which applied to Ireland. This offence was previously created by section 4 of the Lord Ellenboroughs Act 43 Geo 3 c 58 1803. This in turn replaced "An Act to prevent the Murthering of Bastard Children" 21 Jac 1 c 27 1623 and another Act applying to Ireland, which were repealed by section 3.

The words "if any woman shall be delivered of a child, every person" were retained in section 60 after a division in the select committee of the House of Commons, and the members were equally divided upon the subject. The word "secret" was in like manner retained after a division in the committee.

An offence under section 60 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861 could not be tried at Quarter Sessions.

Section 31 of the Offences against the Person Act 1828 made provision in relation to any person who should counsel, aid or abet the commission of, amongst other things, a misdemeanour under section 14.


4. South Africa

In South Africa, section 113 of the General Law Amendment Act, 1935, amended by the Judicial Matters Amendment Act 66, 2008, creates the offence of concealing the birth of a child:

Concealment of birth of newly born child

113. 1 Any person who, without a lawful burial order, disposes of the body of any newly born child with intent to conceal the fact of its birth, whether the child died before, during or after birth, shall be guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to a fine or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding three years.

2 A person may be convicted under subsection 1 although it has not been proved that the child in question died before its body was disposed of.


5. United States

In the United States, concealing birth was once a crime punishable by capital punishment. In 1785, Hannah Piggen from Massachusetts was the last person to be put to death for concealing the birth/death of an infant.

Concealing birth remains illegal in many states. Its seriousness as a crime, however, differs from state to state, ranging from a felony in Arkansas to a misdemeanor in Washington.

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