BABY-FARMING, a term meaning generally the taking in of infants to nurse for payment, but usually with an implication of improper treatment. Previous to the year 1871 the abuse of the practice of baby-farming in England had grown to an alarming extent, while the trials of Margaret Waters and Mary Hall called attention to the infamous relations between the lying-in houses and the baby-farming houses of London. The evil was, no doubt, largely connected with the question of illegitimacy, for there was a wide-spread existence of baby-farms where children were received without question on payment of a lump sum. Such children were nearly all illegitimate, and in these cases it was to the pecuniary advantage of the baby-farmer to hasten the death of the child. It had become also the practice for factory operatives and mill-hands to place out their children by the day, and since in many cases the children were looked upon as a burden and a drain on their parents' resources, too particular inquiry was not always made as to the mode in which the children were cared for. The form was gone through too of paying a ridiculously insufficient sum for the maintenance of the child. In 1871 the House of Commons found it necessary to appoint a select committee “to inquire as to the best means of preventing the destruction of the lives of infants put out to nurse for hire by their parents.” “Improper and insufficient food,” said the committee, “opiates, drugs, crowded rooms, bad air, want of cleanliness, and wilful neglect are sure to be followed in a few months by diarrhoea, convulsions and wasting away.” These unfortunate children were nearly all illegitimate, and the mere fact of their being hand-nursed, and not breast-nursed, goes some way (according to the experience of the Foundling hospital and the Magdalene home) to explain the great mortality among them. Such children, when nursed by their mothers in the workhouse, generally live. The practical result of the committee of 1871 was the act of 1872, which provided for the compulsory registration of all houses in which more than one child under the age of one year were received for a longer period than twenty-four hours. No licence was granted by the justices of the peace, unless the house was suitable for the purpose, and its owner a person of good character and able to maintain the children. Offences against the act, including wilful neglect of the children even in a suitable house, were punishable by a fine of £5 or six months' imprisonment with or without hard labour. In 1896 a select committee of the House of Lords sat and reported on the working of this act. In consequence of this report the act of 1872 was repealed and superseded by the Infant Life Protection Act 1897, which did away with the system of registration and substituted for it one of notice to a supervening authority. By the act all persons retaining or receiving for hire more than one infant under the age of five had to give written notice of the fact to the local authority. The local authorities were empowered to appoint inspectors, and required to arrange for the periodical inspection of infants so taken in, while they could also fix the number of infants which might be retained. By a special clause any person receiving an infant under the age of two years for a sum of money not exceeding twenty pounds had to give notice of the fact to the local authority. If any infants were improperly kept, the inspector might obtain an order for their removal to a work-house or place of safety until restored to their parents or guardians, or otherwise legally disposed of. The act of 1897 was repealed and amended by the Children Act 1908, which codified the law relating to children, and added many new provisions. This act is dealt with in the article Children, Law Relating to.
In the United States the law is noticeably strict in most states. In Massachusetts, a law of 1891 directs that “every person who receives for board, or for the purpose of procuring adoption, an infant under the age of three years shall use diligence to ascertain whether or not such infant is illegitimate, and if he knows or has reason to believe it to be illegitimate shall forthwith notify the State Board of Charity of the fact of such reception; and said board and its officers or agents may enter and inspect any building where they may have reason to believe that any such illegitimate infant is boarded, and remove such infant when, in their judgment, such removal is necessary by reason of neglect, abuse or other causes, in order to preserve the infant's life, and such infant so removed shall be in the custody of said Board of Charity, which shall make provision therefor according to law.” The penal code of the state of New York requires a licence for baby-farming to be issued by the board of health of the city or town where such children are boarded or kept, and “every person so licensed must keep a register wherein he shall enter the names and ages of all such children, and of all children born on such premises, and the names and residences of their parents, as far as known, the time of reception and the discharge of such children, and the reasons therefor, and also a correct register of every child under five years of age who is given out, adopted, taken away, or indentured from such place to or by any one, together with the name and residence of the person so adopting” (Pen. Code, § 288, subsec. 4).
Persons neglecting children may be prosecuted under § 289 of the N.Y. penal code, which provides that any person who “wilfully causes or permits the life or limb of any child, actually or apparently under the age of sixteen years, to be endangered, or its health to be injured, or its morals to become depraved . . . is guilty of a misdemeanour.”
In Australia particular care has been taken by most of the states to prevent the evils of baby-farming. In South Australia there is a State Children’s Council, which, under the State Children Act of 1895, has large powers with respect to the oversight of infants under two years boarded out by their mother. “Foster-mothers,” as the women who take in infants as boarders are called, must be licensed, while the number of children authorized to be kept by the foster-mother is fixed by licence; every licensed foster-mother must keep a register containing the name, age and place of birth of every child received by her, the names, addresses and description of the parents, or of any person other than the parents from or to whom the child was received or delivered over, the date of receipt or delivery over, particulars of any accident to or illness of the child, and the name of the medical practitioner (if any) by whom attended. In New South Wales the Children’s Protection Act of 1892, with the amendments of 1902, requires the same state supervision over the homes in which children are boarded out, with licensing of foster-mothers. In Victoria an act was passed in 1890 for “making better provision for the protection of infant life.” In New Zealand, there is legislation to the same effect by the “Adoption of Children Act 1895" and the "Infant Life Protection Act 1896.”
- Baby is a diminutive or pet form of “babe,” now chiefly used in poetry or scriptural language. Babe is probably a form of the earlier baban, a reduplicated form of the infant sound ba.