Chronic child sickness takes on several types and can be classified as chronic child sickness and acute child sickness. Chronic child sickness refers to those who were born as weak and malnourished infants. These infants exhibit a sense of lethargy bordering on stuporous and have no force of life within them. As opposed to their normal counterparts, these infants rarely cry and do not exhibit a strong sucking reflex as most infants commonly do.
Infants with chronic child sickness may exhibit these behaviors right away upon birth or they could exhibit these characteristics later on in their childhood as they become susceptible to the common diseases acquired by at-risk infants such as respiratory infections, stomach problems or fevers. These children may exhibit a lack of resistance to battle these common infections, thus making them all the more susceptible to these diseases. Infants with acute child sickness refer to those who die in a sudden and violent manner.
Most often, these infants are afflicted with convulsions such that they often bang their heads or may make loud, shrieking noises. The parents give up all hope when the infant starts foaming at the mouth or as it gnashes its teeth. These infants are put aside like an object and left to die “naturally”, alone and neglected. Passive infanticide is a term coined by Marvin Harris, an anthropologist. The shantytown of Alto do Cruzeiro (Crucifix Hill), has a high rate of death expectancy.
Thus, mothers learn to deal with the death of a child with calmness and to separate themselves emotionally as early as possible. Only the “survivors” or those infants deemed to be strong and robust are cared for while infants who exhibit any form of weakness or infirmity are left to die “a mingua” or of neglect. This pattern of allowing nature to take its course and leave the infant to eventually die is called passive infanticide. Mothers often use this as a survival strategy due to the difficulty to support and bring up a child in such an impoverished town.
This can also be attributed to the high mortality rate of children five years and below. The Catholic Church has contributed to the lack of emotional involvement and indifference to the death of a child. The priests are also caught in the middle of a double bind as the Church remains firm on its position against abortion, sterilization and the practice of birth control, which are deemed necessary by several groups and factions in order to prevent the further impoverishment of families.
The priests of the town recognize the significance of this problem although he does not do any action and merely resolve to avoid any discussions of the said topic. According to the priest of Bom Jesus da Mata, the decision of observing family planning methods is up to his parishioners. Today, parishes within the shantytown of Alto do not perform any church ceremony for the death of the infant or child. Padre Marcos reiterated that the new church is one of “hope and joy”. Thus celebrating the death of children is not practiced anymore.
Baptismal customs have also changed as Churches refuse to conduct baptism rites for infants who are dying or near the brink of death. Mothers of dying infants often receive a scolding instead as they are told to take care of their other children instead of wasting their time at church attempting to have their dying or dead child baptized. Therefore, mothers within the town of Alto are denied of certain comforts of the Catholic Church as the latter has consistently denied the mothers’ requests for a baptism of their child.