In fiction and in the media, both heroes and villains often agree on one thing: they Wouldn't Hurt a Child.
This creed exists for various reasons: it may be because Children Are Innocent, and thus should be protected and kept out of harm's way at all costs; it may be because, to Moral Guardians, seeing a child being brutalized is Harmful to Minors and thus should be avoided; it may also be because even writers mostly disagree with the idea of writing about harming a child.
But sometimes, some people just don't agree with that. Or just don't care. And, they do hurt children, sometimes even kill them, in defiance of the Improbable Infant Survival. Indeed, the act of harming a child usually comes off as the ultimate act of villainy.
Needless to say, this trope is almost always a Kick the Dog moment. Hence, the presence of Would Hurt A Child is often telltale of a Crapsack World or at least a Darker and Edgier series. However, it is surprisingly easy to subvert this trope simply by using Kids Are Cruel (the flip side of Children Are Innocent) and combining it with Pay Evil unto Evil. Does a soldier shooting a child soldier still seem like an ultimate villain? And want to go all the way? Make the children creepy or, even better, make them Enfant Terribles and, this time, hurting said children will look much less as a Moral Event Horizon crossing, even though there will always be some Moral Guardians or Papa Wolf / Mama Bear to complain. This may also be done by a Complete Monster to establish that even a villain has lines they won't dare cross. Naturally, the Friend to All Children sees this type of character as a mortal enemy, unless they are a religious figure such as Jesus, in which case would be taking them to a better place anyhow.
In Western works, this trope is rare and almost always done off-panel when played straight (read: when the violence towards the child isn't being stopped in the nick of time and causes actual damage) largely due to broadcast standards; it's a little more common in literature but still not very much so. In Japanese fiction, child brutality can be more common but is often framed in a very specific way (again, to conform to their S&P) and has actually faded somewhat in the new millenium over content concerns.
Important Note: This trope is about adults physically hurting children, fatally or not, or deliberately placing them in life-threatening situations. The following are not examples: slapping, spanking and general discipline from a parent or guardian to a child (unless the child is at risk of death or serious injury as a result of such discipline, that's Don't Make Me Take My Belt Off), psychological/verbal abuse (very common but not that trope), abduction (only applies if the child dies or gets effectively hurt), depriving a child of food (that's Denied Food as Punishment and only counts as this trope if taken to the point where the child is at risk of serious harm from lack of food), child on child violence (that's Kids Are Cruel), exploitation for profit by the parents if they aren't hurt (that is Financial Abuse). Violence to teenagers, with the exception of some of those in their early teens, isn't an example either since teenagers are physically stronger than children and lack the "completely defenseless" element, especially if Teens Are Monsters. However, teenagers harming children applies.
There is also an interesting Double Standard when it comes to characters applying for this trope, since they are almost Always Male. Rarely are women described as being physically violent to children. Even rarer are the instances when they actually kill them. Indeed, killing children is among the few things that permanently prevent a woman from a convenient High-HeelFace Turn. Extra points if the killing is done directly and at the woman's hands (i.e. stabbing, strangling etc...). Compare Pædo Hunt, another child abuse trope where female perpetrators are similarly unheard of.
A subtrope of Kick the Dog. Frequently a cause of Adult Fear. Burn the Orphanage is a particular form of this. See also Child Hater, who hates kids but isn't necessarily physically abusive and Nice Job Breaking It, Herod!, which is often an extreme version. If they're not stopped in time by the heroes, this overlaps with Death of a Child. Contrast Improbable Infant Survival and Wouldn't Hurt a Child. Compare Kids Are Cruel, Children Are Innocent. Related to Eats Babies and Child Eater. Usually applies to the Sadist Teacher. If a villain who is quite capable of bothering adults prefers to spend his time as an antagonist for kids or teenagers, it's fair to say Pick on Someone Your Own Size. For the role-reversed example of this trope, see Double Standard: Violence, Child on Adult, in which case it's a child physically harming an adult for comedic effect.
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- Segata Sanshiro has been known to beat up teenagers who don't play enough Sega Saturn, though he draws the line at harming younger kids.
- The Apotheosis of Washington: The soldiers Freedom battles in are seen holding torches facing the direction of a small child who recoils away. While it seems like Freedom will stop them, the implication is that they are fully willing to burn a child alive if Freedom wasn't there to restrain them.
- Happy Heroes: Huo Haha attempts to hit a little girl who wants him to get her kite off of a roof in Season 8 episode 18. The girl grabs his toilet plunger wand right before he can actually hit her with it and uses it to get the kite down.
- Mike MacDonald, when he and his wife were trying to conceive a child, noted in his act he was going to do his best not to hit his kids, ever — unless, you know, they were coming at him with a knife or something.
I don't wanna be one of those liberal parents who gets stabbed to death by their kid while saying, "Son, I'm sensing hostility OH GOD!"
- One of Bernie Mac's punchlines in his act was threatening to beat his kids "till the white meat shows".
- Denis Leary, in a larger bit about celebrity entitlement, said that he was looking forward to beating the shit out of his kids.
That's therapy for you: mowin' the lawn while cryin'.
- Country Music has approached the topic in several hit songs about child abuse. The video for Martina McBride's "Concrete Angel" comes the closest to actually showing parent-on-child abuse on-screen - a young boy watches as shadows on a wall depict a woman (an actress shaking a stunt dummy) shaking her daughter viciously. "Alyssa Lies" by Jason Michael Carroll strongly implies that a young girl had been viciously beaten by her father.
- Formula 86 by Razakel. Allso Razakel's stage persona.
- In Monster Magnet's "See You In Hell", the protagonist reveals himself to be driven towards killing himself and his significant other, by the voice of the infant they killed and dumped in a landfill.
- WHIP YO KIDS featuring Nice Peter by Yourfavoritemartian. I'll punch a baby in the face just for cryin' on a plane.
- GWAR does this on occasion, an example happening in the climax of The Animated Tales Of GWAR.
- The folk-song based on the old tale of "The Lambton Worm" makes it explicit that the "worm" of the title is a ravening monster that will happily "swally little bairns alive".
- The narrator of Swans' "Beautiful Child".
"I love a child
I love a beautiful child
I will hold this child in my arms
And caress his soft head
Listen to him cry
Listen to him cry
I can kill the child
The beautiful child
I will kill the child
The beautiful child..."
- The Bible:
- King Herod did this in order to try to kill Jesus. It didn't work.
- Earlier, Pharaoh killed Hebrew sons to keep the Hebrews from becoming strong enough that in case of a war they could join the enemy and fight against Egypt. Fortunately for the Hebrews, Moses escaped slaughter.
- God Himself kills the firstborn of Egypt as one of the Ten Plagues, as well as David and Bathsheba's firstborn. In his case, it's given the justification of Omniscient Morality License, which means that God would simply be taking them to a better place.
- Regarding the death of David and Bathsheba's firstborn, David became the Trope Namer for the Uriah Gambit by abusing his Kingly authority to murder Bathsheba's husband in order to make her available. Nathan the prophet strongly implied that had David not repented for this sin, David himself would have died instead of his firstborn son (who was the product of David's adultery with Bathsheba). Because someone had to pay with their life for David's sinnote and since David repented, the child had to pay. Because David had more or less raped Bathsheba, that was why she wasn't killed.
- One oft-misquoted law in the Old Testament supposedly requires parents to have their offspring stoned to death for being disobedient, however, the exact wording of that law specifies - regardless of translation - that the accused is both a glutton and a drunkard. Obviously, this is not a kid.
- Solomon seems willing to do this to a baby that two women both want custody over, but it was really a test to see which woman truly cared about the baby. One woman was fine with the "cut the baby in half" thing while the other was horrified by the suggestion.
- According to Book of Judges, the Canaanites are notorious for burning their children for their idols, resulting in God telling the Israelites to purge all of the gentiles in Canaan so they would not be tainted by idolatry. In the end, they were punished for not doing so.
- In Samuel I, King Saul is ordered to exterminate the Amalekites: every man, woman, child, and animal. He is removed from God's favor when he disobeys by sparing the Amalekite King and by adding the Amalekite livestock to his flocks.
- Many Greek myths punish a parent by slaughtering their children. Probably the best known example is Medea with the addition that the children in question were her own and their deaths were to get back at the philandering Jason.
- Norse Mythology:
- Gudrun kills her own children who she births, then feeds them to to Attila the Hun.
- Signe, sister of Sigemund (and therefore the aunt of Sigurd the Dragonslayer), is an even more cruel example. She casually offs the sons she bore with her husband, deeming them unfit. When she gives birth to her brother`s son, she willingly drives a needle through his arm, and he doesn´t blink. THAT is the son she deems to be fitting.
- Tuatha and Solvin from The Fallen Gods are both perfectly willing to fight and kill a child in episode 7. Flint, less so. To be fair, the child does want to kill and eat them.
- The guards in The Chimera Program arc of Cool Kids Table, despite being ordered to "subdue and contain" the escaping child experiments, are shooting to kill.
- Bryan Danielson threatened to backhand a girl flipping him off while he was cutting a promo in Ring of Honor. She started flipping him off again while he continued his promo, leading to him getting out of the ring to confront her, with the crowd chanting for her to "fuck him up".
- An infamous instance came during an episode of WWE Smackdown! in 2004, when during a storyline involving Lita, Matt Hardy and their baby Gene Snitsky brought a wrapped towel to the ring while Lita was in the ring, claiming it was Lita's baby. After taunting Lita with harm toward the baby, he took the towel, dropped it and then punted it into the crowd!
- Melissa Coates slapped a boy booing prior to her challenging Mercedes Martinez for the WSU Title. Hailey Hatred went so far as to push over two adults then lift a little girl out her seat and throw her while in search of something to hit Martinez with.
- While many of the wrestlers of Wonder Ring STARDOM would not have been considered legal adults at the time, nine year old HARUKA being put against men near their physical prime like Kenny Omega took the cake. Ice Ribbon did similar with Riho, who was eight.
- Shadowrun: MegaCorps that want stable, loyal cyborgs have learned that children make the best candidates. HMHVV-infected are cannibalistic so it's assumed that they'll eventually eat children. Mr. Johnson may want your group to kidnap, hurt, or kill a target child for reasons he's unwilling to divulge.
- Dungeons & Dragons:
- The Dread Emperor, a villain introduced in the Splat book The Book of Vile Darkness, not only gladly hurts children, he uses this behavior to benefit him in the most selfish way. An imposing, two meter tall man in golden armor, the Dread Emperor keeps children chained to his armor at all times with any damage done to the Emperor himself transferred to the children via the armor's magic. An unrepentant Serial Killer, the Emperor uses these children as a bait for any heroes foolish enough to take him on and does not limit his hostilities to children; he will often destroy entire city blocks when he's a mind to. When a hero challenges him, the Dread Emperor feels no compunction slaying hundreds simply to kill a target or mentally enslaving any civilians nearby and using them to attack his opponent for him.
- Pale Night is a powerful demon lord who takes this Up to Eleven. Many eons ago, she tricked Morwell, the queen of the eladrin, into a vile pact that resulted in an entire generation of eladrin children being trapped in the Abyssal layer of Androlynne; since then, Pale Night and her forces have been hunting them down one by one at her leisure. To this day, armies of eladrin try to protect the children (who remain forever young due to the pact) and find a means for them to escape. Morwell's current consort Faerinaal leads the armies presently, and even though his predecessor (and the one before that one) perished doing so, less than a third of the children survive to the present day.
- The 4th Edition introduces hideous monsters called banderhobs who kidnap mortals, some of them actually taking children from their bed at night. (The illustration for the creature in the Monster Manual 3 shows one about to do just that.) Where they take their victims and what they do with them is a mystery.
- The Adventures of Tom Sawyer: Injun Joe is determined to kill Tom after he testifies against him.
- Rare Female Example occurs with Lady Macbeth. The violence is only implied, but at this point in the play, she seems perfectly capable of going through with it.
Lady Macbeth: I have given suck, and know
How tender 'tis to love the babe that milks me:
I would, while it was smiling in my face,
Have pluck'd my nipple from his boneless gums,
And dash'd the brains out, had I so sworn as you
Have done to this.
- Not just implied with Macbeth, who has assassins murder Macduff's wife and young son. His wife is horrified by this, though not because of the children it screws up her political machinations. That said, those particular murders do feature among the things she mentions in the infamous sleepwalking scene.
The Thane of Fife had a wife; where is she now? What, will these hands ne'er be clean?
- The witches also mention using a dead baby in one of their spells, just to show how witches are evil.
- Rare Female Example occurs with Lady Macbeth. The violence is only implied, but at this point in the play, she seems perfectly capable of going through with it.
- In Pokémon Live!, Giovanni is perfectly willing to kill Ash with MechaMew2's Hyper Beam, and he engages him in a fistfight shortly before that.
- The Mrs Hawking play series: In part V: Mrs. Frost, the eponymous villain sends one of her men, Joe Quinn, after Nathaniel's children as a tactic to break him in captivity.
- In The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Hyde casually knocks down a flower girl who gets in his way when he's in a bad mood.
- Westeros: An American Musical:
- The fact that Gregor Clegane killed Elia Martell and her children is brought up a couple of times.
- The whole "should we use Edric Storm as a Human Sacrifice or not?" debate in Stannis' faction in Act II stems in part from the fact Edric is still quite young and some members of the group are more willing to look past this than others.
- Universal Orlando's Halloween Horror Nights implied this with their 2010 haunted maze, The Orfanage: it's heavily implied that the entire house takes place after the orphanage has burned down and you're being assaulted by the ghosts of the children, with various imagery and audio hinting at various tortures that the children were put through by their caretakers until Cindy demonstrated her abilities and burned down the orphanage with all the kids trapped inside.
- Knott's Scary Farm features the Tooth Fairy, the main antagonist of the haunted attraction of the same name, who is obsessed with teeth and will break into the homes of children who have just lost teeth to violently kidnap them and take them to a realm of her own. There, she and her minions will brutally and painfully imprison and torture them, ripping out their intestines, bones, organs, and teeth until they are dead. She commands her minions to make things as horrific as possible, using massive drills, saws, hooks, and knives to mutilate and torment the innocent children.
- Kirei Kotomine of Fate/stay night rounded up all the surviving orphans of the Fuyuki Fire and cut off their limbs before sealing them in coffins that drained their prana. They were alive and aware for the entire ten years between the two wars.
- Zouken Matou has no issues with Shinji treating Sakura harshly or raping her. In fact, he has gone to significant lengths to break her psychologically.
- In Saya no Uta, Yousuke Suzumi dismembers his young daughter and rapes the young-looking Saya after getting the same type of Agnosia the protagonist suffers from.
- In ATOM GRRRL!!, this is revealed to be the case for Anna, upon a mother begging to leave during Dave's attempted robbery:
Anna: Did I fuckin' say you could talk? Just keep your head down, you old cunt.
Anna: And keep your brats quiet or I'll bring 'em down to Mexico and sell 'em! We're doin' business right now, so shut the hell up!
- This is attempted in the Yogscast Minecraft Series, specifically in Shadow of Israphel, when the titular antagonist hunts down the Antioch bloodline and murders Peculier's mother, later trying to target him and his sister Isabel as infants. This forces their father to make a Heroic Sacrifice and stop him.
- Carl from Llamas with Hats once created a machine for the specific purpose of crushing orphans to death. In the second episode, Paul also mentions him head butting children off the side of a sinking ship.
- The Lobo Webseries episode "Lobo for President" had the Main Man shoot an alien baby for peeing acid in his face.
- DSBT InsaniT: Dave has no problem with hurting Bear, Snake, Duck, and Balloon, who are the 4 "kids" of the main cast.
- Chadam: Viceroy ends up kidnapping eight-year old Ripley as another living person to dissect.