While many stories feature children that survive miraculously through any incident, others seem to go out of their way to subvert the Sorting Algorithm of Mortality when it comes to children. Here children can die just as easily as adults, or perhaps even easier given their relative lack of experience and inability to defend themselves. There are few ways to make a Character Death more impactful than if it's a child or baby.
This trope is most often done for Rule of Drama. After all, Children Are Innocent, and thus their deaths are often something people can hardly accept - "they're too young to die", "they still have a lot of things they could do/achieve", etc. Hence why the trope is more common in serious dramas and stories farther on the cynical side of the Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism. For instance, this trope is distressingly common in most Crapsack World settings to illustrate just how horrible the world in question is. It's also frequent in war stories, especially if the children are themselves combatants. Other times it's used for shock factor, especially in horror; the monster is shown to be especially dangerous since it underlines that no one is safe. More rarely, it's used for Black Comedynote , since this is serious Crosses the Line Twice material—it's rarely if ever part of a Hilariously Abusive Childhood.
May be the Littlest Cancer Patient, who tend to be not just critically but terminally ill to enhance the level of grief, although the only thing allowed to kill them is their disease. Also the reason why Undead Child is a deeply unsettling trope.
Do note that this is for when the plot actually deals with child death. This is not about a supervillain blowing up a city and Fridge Logic dictating that children must certainly have died in the process unless it specifically addresses the issue.
Related is Outliving One's Offspring, where the offspring is often (but not always) a child, and Tragic Stillbirth for when a fetus's death causes the family trauma. Can overlap with Offing the Offspring if the child's parents are the cause of death. See also Would Hurt a Child, which is used to show how completely evil a villain is by targeting children (though it doesn't have to end in death). Naturally, this is one of the most common forms of Adult Fear.
See also Censored Child Death, when the death still occurs, but is downplayed compared to other deaths in the story.
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- Child Ballad
- #20 The Cruel Mother depicts the title character murdering her newborn babies or baby, depending on the variant.
- In #21 The Maid and the Palmer, the palmer taunts the woman with his knowledge of where she buried the babies she has borne and murdered.
- In the horribly anti-Semitic #55 "Little Sir Hugh", the protagonist is killed by a "Jew's daughter" and thrown into a well — this was a fairly recurrent medieval legend (it also appears in The Canterbury Tales).
- The title character of the #93 "Long Lankin" kills a lord's infant son (really very messily) either because the lord didn't pay him for building his castle, or just because he is a serial killer.
- In many variants of #106 The Famous Flower of Serving Men, the heroine's evil mother has her baby killed.
- In #173 Mary Hamilton, Mary drowns her newborn baby. She's caught and executed.
She's tyed it in her apron
And she's thrown it in the sea;
Says, Sink ye, swim ye, bonny wee babe!
You'll ne'er get mair o' me.
- "Captain Carr" (#178) features the titular captain burning down his enemy's house, killing his wife and children (after a lengthy siege, because the wife is a badass).
- In Tom Lehrer's "The Irish Ballad", from Songs by Tom Lehrer, the heroine kills her entire family, including cutting her baby brother in half and serving him to guests for dinner because she was bored.
- The Erl-King by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe is about a farmer riding furiously through the night to get his sick son home. The feverish young boy becomes increasingly distraught, claiming that the Elf King is trying to take him. Whether the Elf King is really there and trying to kidnap the boy or if it's just a fever hallucination is left ambiguous, but by the time the father reaches their home the boy has died.
- Mulan. When walking through the ruins of a raided village, a single doll is found, as a G-rated signal that there were children killed here.
- The animated movie version of Roald Dahl's The BFG, wherein we see into a boy's dream and are allowed to at least on some level "bond" with this kid only for him to be very heavily implied to have been eaten. Oh, and when Sophie and The BFG discuss the other Giants' plans to eat some school children, it is acknowledged to have happened.
- The Prince of Egypt. Because of its particular source material, the child-killing would have been practically impossible to avoid; but still, they do quite a good and discreet job of showing it.
- Tarzan opens with Kerchak and Kala's infant son wandering away from his sleeping parents and running into the leopard Sabor. Sabor pounces on him and it cuts to his devastated parents' reaction when they hear their son's shrieks as Sabor devours him alive.
- Film version of Planet Hulk:
- Caiera, when younger, had to kill her parents to protect her sister. However, she sees that (despite none of the spikes hitting her) she has somehow become infected before Caiera's home breaks down and kills her.
- After a nuclear bomb explosion, Caiera survives, but the girl she tried to save has turned to ash and dissolves in her arms.
- The Bible:
- The Bible features, among other acts of evil, the killings of firstborn children ordered by Pharaoh and King Herod in order to try to prevent both Moses and Jesus from growing up to cause trouble, and God himself killing all of the Egyptians' firstborn children, and the firstborn calves as well.
- When the words Molech/Baal-Hammon, Astarte/Astarthe/Astaroth/Ashtoreth, the Valley of Ben-Hinnom/Gehenna, the Ammonites/Amorites, the Canaanites, etc. are mentioned, these are specifically referencing the sacrifices of children, born and unborn, to the gods of some of the cultures of the time. Sometimes the Jewish people (such as Kings Solomon, Achaz, and Manasses) messed up and took on this practice as well, despite God calling such a practice an abomination, and demanding the death of those who did such things. Those people ended up in a lot of trouble. It's the whole reason that Gehenna came to be the Jewish word for Tartarus/Hell (which is different from Sheol/Hades/Purgatory).
- In 2 Maccabees, when the Jewish people rebelled against the corrupt high priest Jason, who had been appointed by King Antiochus IV, and ran him out of town, the king left Egypt for Jerusalem. Once in Jerusalem, he massacred many, young and old, women and children, virgins and infants. In 1 and 2 Maccabees (2 Maccabees is not a "sequel', it's another viewpoint of what happened in the the first book), King Antiochus IV then decreed that everyone take up the customs of everyone else, except the Jewish customs. He outlawed all Jewish customs, including circumcision. The children who were circumcised were killed, as were their mothers and whoever performed the circumcision.
- Classical Mythology:
- Followers of Orphism in Ancient Greece believed that Zeus and Persephone had a son named Zagreus, who was killed and eaten by a group of Titans at Hera's instigation. However, in some tellings, Zagreus's heart was saved by Athena, and he was later reborn as Dionysus.
- Overlapping with Offing the Offspring: When Jason left his wife Medea for another woman, she murdered their children as part of her revenge scheme.
- Warhammer 40,000, the corpses of children under the age of four (and above ten months) are sometimes used to make Cherubs, which are biomechanical robots. They are used as incense bearers in temples, mobile data storage and fashion statements. Add the fact that they sometimes go 'feral'...
- In the Ravenloft setting Gazetteers from Arthaus, the narrator S adopts an orphaned infant, only to offer it to the banshee Tristessa in exchange for free passage through her domain, Keening. The insane banshee is obsessed with her long-dead infant son, and attempts to "care for" babies in the deluded belief they're hers; as Tristessa can't feed them or keep them warm enough, they inevitably perish from neglect.
- Dungeons & Dragons:
- Second edition actually gave stats and experience point recommendations for depicting infants in several species, up to and including humanoids like orcs.
- Young Dragons (as young as the newly hatched "wyrmling" stage) have continued to be statted out as killable targets in the third and 4th editions, as well as Pathfinder.
- In Pathfinder, on a number of occasions in the lore. The very first adventure contains an encounter where a goblin tries to eat a small child (though this one is played straight, the kid still has notable bitemarks and would have died if not for his father's last-second rescue) and contained details on the corrupt fertility goddess Lamashtu, whose lore involves gaining power over births by ripping out and eating her uterus, then devouring babies to magically regenerate it, and who frequently has children sacrificed to her. The third adventure involves the party exploring the hut of a group of ogrekin called the Grauls, where one room contains the bones of all of the incestuous clan matriarch's female offspring, murdered at birth to avoid being "competition" for her. Things just keep going from there.
- In Anathema, your job is to reduce the human population as much as possible. Either directly or indirectly, your actions will result in children dying.
- Shakespeare includes this trope fairly often, which isn't that surprising as he lived during a time when child mortality was fairly common:
- Macbeth: Macduff's wife and children are murdered — including a son, who is murdered on-stage.
- The title character in Richard III arranges the (offstage) murders of his nephews, which are then described to us by the killer. This is depicted as Richard's Moral Event Horizon.
- Mamillius in The Winter's Tale dies of an unspecified illness, implied to be caused by the gods punishing his father for insisting that his wife was guilty of adultery even when an oracle says otherwise. Leontes (the father in question) also believes for most of the play that he's had his infant daughter killed (although the audience knows otherwise).
- Arthur in King John dies from a fall while trying to escape from prison.
- The Boy in Henry V is killed when a group of the French attack the luggage train he's guarding.
- Romeo and Juliet centers around the deaths of young people, of course: Juliet is only thirteen when she commits suicide, and Romeo's age is never stated but presumably he's not much older.
- Caryl Churchill's Owners: Quite shockingly, the play ends with a death of a baby. Mrs Arlington's baby dies in a fire when their luxurious house burns down.
- The first Liar Liar takes place in middle school and the second one takes place when the characters are first years in high school. Every ending involves at least one character dying. Yukari is an outright Serial Killer who has been killing since elementary school.
- Sunrider Mask of Arcadius has a graphic example. When Solar Alliance soldiers launch a heavy-handed operation to rescue Kayto Shields and Kryska Stares from the Space Pirate Cosette Cosmos and bullets are flying left and right, a little girl that the two of them met earlier picks up a knife to defend herself with and is promptly gunned down. The shock of seeing a child killed right before his eyes leaves Kayto with nightmares for the rest of the game.
- Anyone Can Die in When They Cry. Neither series wimp out about very graphically showing people dying, whether they're ten, fifteen, thirty, or sixty.
- Rika from Higurashi When They Cry in particular is stuck in a "Groundhog Day" Loop where she's been forced to live the same month, dying each time, for possibly hundreds of years.
- In Umineko no Naku Koro ni, nine-year-old Maria is not exempt from dying during the Rokkenjima Massacre; but in the fourth arc in particular, when her body is found, Battler notes that the murderer apparently went out of their way to make her look Peaceful in Death, and it actually looks worse since she's lying in the lap of her mother, whose face was half-blown off, surrounded by adults whose faces were also half-blown off.
- Weapon Brown: Cal V1-n has absolutely no qualms about killing children right in front of their parents. His casual apathy for infants can be witnessed here.
- In Off-White, Gebo returns home to find that his entire pack has been slaughtered by humans, even the puppies. Later lampshaded when Albert and Seven come across the pack's remains.
Albert: They've even killed the puppies. How could they kill something so cute?Seven: Are you kidding me? Cute? So what? Is cuteness of something a good enough reason not to kill it?
- Ansem Retort: An orphanage was burned in the very first comic and Axel and Zexion's 'Spock diet' consists of force feeding blended babies to Sora.
- Salt The Holly: Cade has a flashback to when an assassin squad massacred his family. Not even a baby girl is spared.
- Drowtales: Given its setting. Several children, including infants, die on screen, and the drow equivalent of a seven-year-old child not only dies (mostly) on screen, but is killed by another child the same age as part of a Sadistic Choice. Later on Vene, Ariel's younger brother is killed as part of an attempt to wipe out Quain'tana's bloodline and his two siblings, one a toddler and the other an infant, nearly suffer the same.
- Homestuck: Equius, Vriska, Eridan, Tavros, Nepeta, and Feferi are all Killed Off for Real (though they can potentially reappear due to how ghosts and the afterlife work in the Homestuck-verse). A lot of kids definitely died when Sburb ravages a planet with meteors, not to mention how pretty much all trolls died when the Vast Glub occurred. It's also shown in Vriska's backstory that her lusus killed a bunch of troll children (specifically it forced Vriska to lure other kids in for it to eat; if she refused it would try to kill her).
- In Guilded Age, when the reality-destroying monster attacks the World's Rebellion, Penk sends a boy who idolizes him to go get his drum while he and Magda fight the monster. When the boy and his sister find it, the monster catches up to them. It's not shown on screen, but when we return to them, we learn that the monster got him. His sister takes it very hard.
- Happy Tree Friends: Pop and Cub's gimmick is mainly that Pop is not a competent parent and his negligence constantly costs the life of Cub, and sometimes of himself, in very gruesome ways (as is the norm for Happy Tree Friends episodes). Examples include when he tries to wash him in the sink and accidentally scalds his lower half, then slices him up below the waist in the garbage disposal and when he is cutting the hedge and accidentally slices the top part of his head off.
- In Farthing Wood Friends:
- After the rodents have babies, the little ones are killed and impaled by a bird of prey in the very next episode.
- This has happened a few more times; one of Mr. and Mrs. Rabbit's offspring is shot by a hunter, then fed to his dog, and Dreamer, one of Fox and Vixen's cubs, is killed by Scarface.
- Family Guy:
Brian: Stewie, I killed one of my own kind! I mean how would you feel if you killed a baby!Stewie: Well, actually I've killed seven...
- Used as Black Comedy:
- Peter has killed many children both intentionally and unintentionally.
- In many of The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror Halloween episodes, where Negative Continuity and Anyone Can Die are both in full effect, child characters (including Bart, Lisa, Maggie, etc.) are not immune to the comedic carnage that frequently happens.
- In the American Dad! episode "100 A.D." junior reporter Matty Moyer is among the characters killed in a bus crash.
- Star Wars: The Clone Wars:
- 'ARC Troopers' shows towers of cloning tanks being destroyed during an attack on Kamino. That is hundreds of babies dying on-screen.
- In "Padawan Lost", Kalifa, a tweenaged girl was murdered by Garnac, a Trandoshan Egomaniac Hunter.
- In "A Friend in Need", Pre Vizsla leader of Death Watch, killed a teenage girl because her grandfather dared to speak up against the way his gang treated their village.
- In "Revenge", Darth Maul slaughters a village, including children, to get the Jedi's attention. For once, Clone Wars plays it safe and keeps the slaughter largely offscreen.
- In the Spongebob Squarepants episode "Hooky", SpongeBob and Patrick arrive at a field filled with fisherman hooks. When SpongeBob wonders why no else is at the "carnival", Patrick mentions seeing a kid there earlier. As he says this, a pair of juvenile sneakers can be seen on the ground...
- A PSA for AIDS prevention had a woman talking about how her husband died from AIDS. She didn't realize he'd passed the virus onto her until their baby was born with it. As she reveals this last part, she walks over to an empty crib.