A feral child is a child who has lived isolated from human contact starting from a very young age and who has remained unaware of human behaviour and unexposed to language. A feral child is an extremely rare phenomenon. Around 100 cases over the past few centuries are documented at http://www.feralchildren.com.

Feral children may be separated from society by being lost or abandoned into the wild. The category also includes children who have been purposely kept apart from human society, ex. kept in a room in solitary confinement. Sometimes abandonment is due to parents rejecting a child's severe intellectual impairment or physical disability, and some feral children experience severe child abuse or trauma before being abandoned.

Some feral children who end up in the wild are reared by wild animals such as wolves or bears or may become integrated into animal groups. Despite being normally considered hostile to humans, such animals may in fact adopt abandoned human babies as their own, particularly if they have lost their own young.

Many fictional stories and legends depict feral children and integrate the theme of adoption by animals. Perhaps the best known example is that of the legend of the twin boys Romulus and Remus, reputed by myth to be the founders of Rome, who were abandoned at birth and raised by wolves. Other famous examples in fiction are Mowgli in Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book, Edgar Rice Burroughs's Tarzan, and the American tall tale of Pecos Bill.

Fictional feral children are often depicted as growing up with relatively normal human intelligence and skills and an innate sense of culture or civilisation, coupled with a healthy dose of survival instincts; their integration into human society is made to seem relatively easy. In reality, however, feral children lack the basic social skills which are normally learned in the process of enculturation. For example, they may eat with their hands at a great rate, be unable to learn to use a toilet, have trouble learning to walk upright and display a complete lack of interest in the human activity around them. They often seem mentally impaired and have almost insurmountable trouble learning a human language.

It is essentially impossible to convert a child who became isolated at a very young age into a relatively normal member of society. Such individuals need close care throughout their lives. As they are "discovered", feral children become the subject of lively scientific and media interest. Once the excitement dies down and their limitations in terms of learning culture and social behaviour become obvious, frustration can set in and they often spend the rest of their lives passed from one caregiver to another. It is common for them to die young.

Real-life cases

Of the approximatively 100 cases often cited, few of them have been confirmed or well studied, many of the cases lack detail and many may have been exaggerated and embellished. Here is a limited list of cases.

  1. Hessian wolf-children (1341-1344)
  2. The Bamberg boy, who grew up among the cattle (at the close of the sixteenth century)
  3. Hans of Liege; the Irish boy brought up by sheep
  4. The three Lithuanian bear-boys (1657, 1669, 1694)
  5. The girl of Oranienburg (1717)
  6. The two Pyrensean boys (1719)
  7. Peter, the wild boy of Hameln (1724)
  8. The girl of Songi in Champagne (1731)
  9. The Hungarian bear-girl (1767)
  10. The wild man of Cronstadt (end of eighteenth century)
  11. Victor of Aveyron (1797), portrayed in the 1969 movie by Francois Truffaut The Wild Child (L'Enfant sauvage)
  12. Kamala and Amala, females aged 4 and 1 raised by wolves, found in 1920 near Midnapore, Calcutta region, India
  13. Kaspar Hauser (early 19th Century), portrayed in the 1974 film by Werner Herzog The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (Jeder für sich und Gott gegen alle)
  14. Oxana Malaya, Ukraine, (1990s) raised with the dogs until the age of 8
  15. Andrei, a seven-year-old boy raised by a guard dog in the Altai region of southern Siberia, discovered in July 2004 (c. f. mosnews.com).
  16. Sunjit Kumar (2005) from Fiji, raised in a chicken coop.

Case study: Genie

Genie is the name given to a young girl discovered in Los Angeles, U.S. on November 4, 1970, a lifelong victim of bizarre child abuse. Read more...