Between 1963 and 1965, Ian Brady and Myra Hindley abducted and murdered five children in and around Manchester, England. They buried several bodies on Saddleworth Moor, north of Manchester, resulting in the case becoming known as the Moors Murders. The tragedy had a great impact on The Smiths' front man, Morrissey, who was not only from the area, but the same age as some of the victims. He was inspired to write "Suffer Little Children" after reading Beyond Belief: A Chronicle of Murder and its Detection, a semi-fictionalized account of the Moors Murders by Emlyn Williams.
Relatives of the murder victims disapproved of this song and The Smiths album was subsequently banned from several UK stores. Morrissey insisted he did not mean to cause offense, however, and later befriended Ann West, the mother of the murder victim, Lesley Ann Downey, after he wrote to her explaining the song was in fact a tribute to the children.
The song title alludes to a phrase in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 19, verse 14, in which Jesus condemns his disciples for turning away a group of children: "Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven."
This song was played live only once, at The Smiths' first ever gig at The Ritz in Manchester on October 4, 1982.
In 2009, Morrissey contributed a story called "The Bleak Moor Lies" to The Dark Monarch: Magic & Modernity in British Art - a collection of essays on the occult, compiled by the British art institution, Tate - about a group of friends who travel to Saddleworth Moor and encounter a ghost.
Courtney Love's band, Hole, have been known to cover this song live.
This song closes The Smiths' self-titled debut album, which propelled the band into the limelight in 1984. In 2003, the album was ranked at #481 on Rolling Stone magazine's "The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time" list.