DISCLAIMER: the following article contains depictions of violence towards minors

Filicide – A deliberate act of killing one’s own child

On March 20th, we were horrified by the news of a mother who killed her own child. Kanti Utami, a young mother from Brebes slit the throat of her own children with a box-cutter in desire to stop a ‘miserable and poor’ fate by ending their lives, resulting in the death of her own seven-year-old daughter. Fortunately, the other two managed to survive with only injuries on their bodies. A similar case also happened not long ago on 12th of February. A mother from Central Kalimantan killed her beautiful two-years-old daughter with a machete and threw her into the river. 

The similarity between the two cases is that these tragedies both happened from mentally abused mothers. In a research done by Sandra Flynn called ‘Filicide: Mental Illness in Those Who Kill Their Children (2013)’ 40% of parents who commit filicide had a record of mental illness and a traumatic childhood. We know that mental health is often neglected and underestimated in our country, and the purpose of this article isn’t about tolerating the act of murder, but to look deeper into the cause hoping to prevent it to happen again in the future. What really happened to Kanti Utami? 

1. Economic pressure : 

According to many news articles circulating around that time of tragedy, Kanti Utami used to work as a makeup artist in a salon located in Bekasi. The salon used to be crowded with grooms and brides, but then the Covid-19 outbreak started which affected her income as the number of customers were decreasing.  She had to go back to the village and live in her aunt’s house in Brebes with her children. Whereas her husband is seeking a job in Jakarta, according to her, he has been unemployed for quite a long time in the past and right now that his job’s contract is almost over.

This worrying economic pressure could be the major factor of her mental issues. Kanti who used to be occupied by her work as a makeup artist became a stay-at-home mother in a matter of days, an underestimated profession that people often see as an easy task but could be quite an overwhelming duty especially for those who aren’t prepared. In reference to a study by Margaret L. Usdansky called “Depression Risk among Mothers of Young Children: The Role of Employment Preferences, Labor Force Status and Job Quality (2011)” a high number cases of stay-at-home-mom depression occurs among mothers who desire a job outside the house, a career path, or an employment status but is unable to do it.

2. Lack of support system: 

Heart-wrenching Statements such as “I’m not crazy, I just want to be loved by my husband”, “I don’t want my children to suffer like me. I’ve been hiding this pain for a long time”,  “It’s better for them to die than to feel pain and sadness their entire life like me” came from a viral video of Kanti Utami minutes after the police caught her. 

Just from those words, we could tell how much she has suffered internally. How lonely she was and how much she wants to end her pain. A twitter user by the name @witadelina who claims to be kanti’s friend and former neighbor in Bekasi, said that Kanti was a delicate and loving mother. Kanti used to go to work early in the morning, carrying her child on her arm while doing her job, taking great care of her kids despite her busy work. In the same video Kanti also said that she often gets lots of pressure from her family, and that Amin, her father in law, was trying to kill her. Family, husband, friends, all these crucial keys of one’s mental stability that are supposed to play the role of her main support system are missing.

3. Child traumatic stress:

As stated from the latest press conference on 18th of April, Dr. Glorio, who has been examining Kanti’s psychological condition for approximately a month, said that she has indeed suffered from a chronic depression and experiencing mental illness ever since her childhood due to violence and harassment that she got verbally and physically. This also aligns with her statement in the video that her mother used to lock her up. Locking up a kid to ‘discipline’ them was quite a popular way of parenting in Indonesia and many Asian countries. 

Physical and verbal abuse is considered one of the most effective ways to educate a misbehaving child, especially among the older generation and rural areas where education about positive parenting is limited. This authoritarian parenting style has been a common thread in Indonesia, passing down to generations over the years and becoming a cultural phenomenon. It now depends on the future generations to decide whether to apply the same nurture or develop into a more modern and positive way of parenting that proactively fulfills a child’s emotional needs through positive interaction instead of giving harsh punishments.

Mental awareness in our country is still very alarming. Even though recent campaigns and education about mental health is getting popular in Indonesia, in reality people who suffered from mental illness still receive a stigma from the society and some even consider them as a disgrace or shame to their own family or get avoided and blamed for not being strong enough religiously and mentally. This is a mindset that needs to get rid of. We need to realize that it’s not about being weak or strong, but it’s about how much we could understand that their pain and struggle is just as important and valid as everybody else and how one’s mental well-being is just as precious as their physical health. We can’t tolerate or justify Kanti’s act to her children, but we can save another life by being aware and staying beside those who needed a shoulder to lean on and an ear to listen. 

Penulis: Clara Shinta

Reporter: Clara Shinta

Editor: Fareez Eldacca

Foto: https://disway.id/tag/10135/kanti-utami

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