Reproductive Mental Health and the Indian Criminal Legal System: An Unexplored Dimension

Reproductive Mental Health and the Indian Criminal Legal System: An Unexplored Dimension

Ritika Behl
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-2819-8.ch021
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The intricate relationship between reproductive mental health and the criminal legal system has not been explored or understood yet in India. A mother might be suffering from reproductive mental disorders while committing crimes like infanticide or neonaticide, which are still understudied. It is vital to develop an understanding of their symptoms and risk factors, which will be enlisted in the chapter. The author aims to highlight the limited approach of the Indian criminal legal system towards perinatal depression and perinatal psychosis and analyze how understanding of such mental disorders can effectively help in the justice delivery system. There are various inconsistencies in the infanticide laws worldwide, which shall also be covered in this chapter. There are certain recommendations presented here that can be utilized to ensure that the infanticide laws are not only punitive but are also reformative and rehabilitative. The author would like to bring to limelight how the education and training of clinical professionals and would-be parents is extremely vital.
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The predominant belief that motherhood brings along with it a sense of contentment and euphoria for the mother and the family overshadows the anxiety and depressive feelings which women tend to develop during the perinatal period. The World Health Organization (2009) remarked in the literature review about reproductive mental health that women in the reproductive age group become prone to developing mental disorders which have adverse impact on their reproductive health outcomes. The WHO also highlighted the findings by Upadhyay et al (2017) that 20% of the mothers suffer from clinical depression after childbirth in India.

Profound outcomes of perinatal depression, a mental disorder that women are prone to develop during the antenatal and the prenatal stage, have been reported by various evidence-based studies (Leticia Gutierrez-Galve, 2019; Nath et al., 2017). Perinatal Depression has been recognized as a public health issue by the WHO (2010) as well. Perinatal depression can develop during the pregnancy period, which is termed as antenatal depression, or can develop after delivery which is termed as postpartum or postnatal depression. Postnatal period is generally regarded as the period ranging from six weeks after delivery though many believe that it the stretch of six months should also be considered puerperium/ postnatal period (WHO Technical Consultation on Postpartum Care, 2010). Romano et al (2010) further specified that where it is considered to stretch over a period of six months it can be divided into three different phases: acute phase (6-12 Hrs after delivery), sub-acute phase (2-6 weeks after delivery) and delayed phase (up to six months after delivery).

Postnatal depression can be differentiated from baby blues which include common and mild symptoms which extinguish within the first two weeks during the postpartum period (Gupta et al., 2013). It can further be distinguished from postpartum psychosis which is a rare and acute condition which requires emergency support, treatment and hospitalization (Osborne, 2018). Its outcomes are not just restricted to the mother but also extend to the physical and mental health of the child and affect the family as a unit as well (Surkan et al., 2011).It has been reported that a mother’s mental health disorder during perinatal period has a direct relationship with her child’s cognitive, behavioral and emotional issues(Glover, 2014; Upadhyay et al., 2017; Vameghi et al., 2016).It also has a direct bearing on the adverse physical development of the child including stunted growth, low birth weight and pre-term delivery (Husain et al., 2012).

Various evidence-based studies in India have reported high incidence rate of perinatal depression and its severe consequences for women. In 2018, Rathod et al. conducted a study in Sehore District which revealed that 8.8% women were suffering from perinatal depression and that 5.9% women had developed suicidal tendencies in the last one year of their study. A pilot study conducted in Chennai involving hundred pregnant women also reflected high likelihood of depression. Self-harming tendencies were detailed in 24% of the participants (Srinivasan et al., 2015).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Murder: Any act done to kill a person or done with the intention to kill such a person (which might be premeditated as well) is called as murder.

Postnatal or Postpartum Depression: Postnatal depression can trigger after delivery starting from the first few weeks of delivery which can be easily distinguished from baby blue’s which extinguish after first few days.

Homicide: Killing of one person by another is generally termed as homicide.

Filicide: Killing of a child (by one parent or both) in the age group of 1-year old to 18-yearl old is termed as filicide.

Prenatal or Antenatal Depression: Prenatal depression includes depressive episodes which can develop during the time period of pregnancy and can trigger postpartum depression if it is not treated.

Ego-Dystonic Thoughts: Thoughts, impulses and behavior that are felt to be repugnant, distressing, unacceptable, or inconsistent with one’s self-concept.

Ego-Syntonic Thoughts: Ideas or thoughts that are acceptable to oneself.

Hypomania: A mild form of mental illness marked by periods of excitement, delusions and overactivity.

Infanticide: Infanticide generally is used to define the killing of one’s own child (by one parent or both) within first few hours or shortly after birth up to the period of first year after birth. In Indian context it also includes feticide and neonaticide (Feticide includes any act done with the intention to kill a baby before it is born or any such act which results in death of a baby before it is born).

Manslaughter: Unlawful killing without malice which may be subdivided as voluntary, involuntary or aggravated depending on the state’s jurisdiction.

Postpartum Psychosis: Postpartum Psychosis is a severe psychiatric disorder which occurs in a new mother suddenly, within first two weeks of the delivery, and includes symptoms like disorganization, depersonalization, mania, delusions and hallucinations.

Neonaticide: Killing of a child within the first 24-hours after birth is known as neonaticide.

Perinatal Depression: Perinatal depression includes major and minor depressive episodes which women might suffer from during pregnancy or after delivery up to the period of first twelve months after delivery.

Anergia: Abnormal lack of energy.

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