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Feral Children: Born Human But Raised by Animals

Being locked up in the basement may cause a child to be a feral / Photo by Jan Andersen via 123RF

 

Stories about feral children have always captured the interest of the public. They have often become the center of several myths and tales like The Jungle Book. Many experts, including psychologists and anthropologists, have curiously explored how they were able to adapt animalistic behaviors and adjust to the natural environment. Scientists have also investigated the reason for their inability to speak.

Science Daily states that a feral child is “a human child, who, from a very young age has lived in isolation from human contact and remained unaware of human social behavior, and unexposed to language.”  Another definition, which given by the historian Michael Newton, is that they are children who were raised by animals or were brought up by themselves in the wilderness.

Professor Douglas Cadland, an American Psychologist and primatologist, estimates that there are around 4,000 cases of feral children.

What Causes One to Become a  Feral Child?

Good Therapy says that while most assume that feral children were brought up in the woods by wolves, they do not have to live in natural habitats to become feral. Being severely abused and being locked up in a basement may also cause them to be feral. The extreme abuse a child has gone through can impair many of their developmental processes. It is said that feral children are inclined to adapt the traits of their environment. Therefore, a kid who grew up in a forest might be more at ease when surrounded by animals while a child who spent their time imprisoned in a basement might fear being in an open space or feel frightened by interacting with other humans.

 

Feral children refused to eat cooked food / Photo by Tinnakorn Jorruang via 123RF

 

Several other factors were discussed by The Guardian for this occurrence. Feral children may appear to be speaking an animal language when in fact it is just a “disordered or pre-verbal vocalizations a damaged child”. They explain that children will search for any source of comfort that is accessible to them and will imitate those around them. For example, if a dog is the only creature they were able to associate with, they may also develop the habit of barking.

Their furry appearance may possibly be caused by hormonal imbalance or dietary insufficiency. It is also possible that since their hair is unkempt, with no one to untangle or to cut their hair, it makes them look overly hairy. Their “claws” may be the result of their nails growing out since they do not have anyone to help them trim their nails. It has also been noted that because they had not been raised in an environment where they were trained to practice social etiquette, they tend to stare as if they were animals.

Feral children are usually shown to refuse any cooked food given to them. Their preference for raw food is usually attributed to them growing up uncivilized. However, their refusal to eat the food may actually be caused by the stress they experience while going through an unfamiliar situation.

Tales of Feral Children

John Ssebunya (Monkey Boy of Uganda)

John Ssebunya had parents who were both alcoholics. One evening, his parents had an argument which lead to them accidentally making a kerosene lamp fall off. When their house was set on fire, he fled to a forest where he stayed until a woman who was looking for firewood found him, ABC narrates. It was speculated that most of the time, he had interacted with small vervet monkeys. He was theorized to be getting scraps from their leftovers because they were not hostile towards him. He most likely followed them around and they had probably tolerated him.

Villagers from Uganda reported that he was nowhere to be seen for two years, however, it is not certain when he started living in the woods. When he was found in 1991, he was described to sound similar to a typewriter and had difficulty learning a language. An orphanage decided to look after him. Today, Ssebunya is known for his talent in sports and singing.

Genie

Genie had been brought up in a rather dysfunctional family. Her father was extremely sensitive to noises and did not want to have babies. Ironically, her mother had bore many children who unfortunately did not survive for long because they were neglected. Among their many children, one of those who lived was Genie. For 13 years, her father had latched her onto a chair or a toilet in a homemade straightjacket, Psychology Today says. If she makes a sound, her father would use a baseball bat to strike her. No one ever talked to her.

Then, the Child Protective Service came to her rescue. When they found her, she barely had any physical skills, was extremely underweight and was unable to talk. Susan Curtiss, a linguist, became acquainted with her and trained her to speak English. Curtiss discovered she was able to tell more detailed stories through pictures than through words. Despite being thoroughly taught about the English, she was never able to create grammatically correct sentences.

A Different Perspective On Feral Children

This all boils down to one thing: feral children are mostly just children who have either been starved of social contact or a product of abuse. To be able to grow up normally, children need someone to look after them, keep them secure and someone to communicate with. If they learn to survive without socializing, learning a language or receiving love, this will cause them to be broken and live an unnatural life.

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