Child sacrifice is the killing of an infant or child as an offering to a deity or deities. It may be conducted as part of a religious observance, ritual, or service. The sacrificing of children and adults to the gods has been practiced since ancient times as part of some cultural and religious observances. There are several references to child sacrifice in the Bible, with one of the most prominent examples being God commanding Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac, in Genesis 22.
Among the earliest forms of child sacrifice was the killing of children in an effort to bring divine protection to buildings or to passages through dangerous areas. Evidence of such sacrifices has been found in Asia, Europe, and Africa. Children were sealed into walls or foundations as buildings were constructed because it was believed their spirits would offer protection. Children were also sacrificed at border crossings to appease foreign deities before entering into new lands.
One of the best-documented examples of human sacrifice was among the pre-Columbian Incan culture of Peru and Aztec culture of Mexico. As part of the human sacrifice practiced in these societies, child sacrifice was prevalent, especially among the Incans. Cannibalism of sacrificed victims among the Aztecs is also believed to have been part of the rituals.
In the Judeo-Christian scriptures, Isaac is spared as a victim of sacrifice because of the appearance of a lamb that God instructs Abraham to kill in place of his son. In the book of Judges, however, Jephthah makes a burning sacrifice of his daughter after victory in battle. This sacrificing of a child in the Judeo-Christian tradition, however, is seen by most scholars as a tragic transgression on the part of Jephthah.
The Bible does contain several accounts of child sacrifice practiced by other societies. Carthage and Phoenicia were known in the ancient world as places where infants and children were sacrificed. Some sources suggest that the infants and children were burned alive so that parents could fulfill vows they had made to the gods.
Most scholars and investigators agree that human sacrifice in general, and child sacrifice in particular, rarely occurs in the modern world. There are occasional accounts that suggest that a human sacrifice may have been made. These are most often found to be the work of a person who was mentally unstable and not one who killed as part of a religious ritual.