|A BRIEF HISTORY OF ADOPTION||Page 1 of 10
Adoption, the lawful transfer of parental obligations and rights, is not solely a child of the 20th century but is a very old and constantly evolving institution. Societies have formally sanctioned the adoption of children, or closely similar arrangements, for more than 4,000 years, since the Babylonian Code of Hammurabi in 2285 B.C.--and probably before recorded history. Adoption is also mentioned in the Hindu Laws of Manu, written about 200 B.C. Perhaps the earliest known adoption is mentioned in the Bible, which describes the adoption of Moses by the Pharaoh's daughter.
The ancient Romans supported and codified adoption in their laws; in fact, Julius Caesar continued his dynasty by adopting his nephew Octavian, who became Caesar Augustus. The ancient Greeks, Egyptians, Assyrians, Germans, Japanese and many other societies all practiced some form of adoption.
Adoption satisfied religious requirements in some cases; for example, in the Shinto religion, ancestral worship and the performing of certain religious rituals were perceived as necessary and important reasons for the institution of adoption. Adopted individuals could still carry on the family lineage and rituals when the family did not have biological children.
Despite a disparity of motivations in cultures worldwide for institutionalizing adoption formally or informally, the common denominator among them all was that adoption functionally satisfied the needs of society or the family.
Although the adopted person usually benefited from the adoption, such benefit was peripheral and was generally a happy accident. This underlying societal view sharply contrasts with views toward adoption today, when the needs and interests of the child are usually considered the primary reason and purpose for adoption as an institution. This is not to say that the benefits of adoption to society are not important. For example, many individuals believe that orphanage-raised children may be less effective as adults than are adopted children.
Today, most cultures worldwide provide for children needing families, although they may not provide the legal family membership that is inherent in adoption. Some Islamic cultures have interpreted the Koran to ban adoption altogether; however, in all these societies, orphaned and abandoned children are cared for despite the lack of formal adoption. The legislation of several Islamic countries contains detailed rules on alternative solutions for family care, such as kafalah. In Iran, a country where Shi'ite Muslims predominate, adoption is allowed. Most Sunni Muslims do not allow adoption.
Notable exceptions in Islamic societies to the ban on formal adoptions are the predominantly Islamic countries of Tunisia and Indonesia, where Muslims may adopt. In addition, in Egypt and Syria, where the system of personal religious laws is followed, Christians may adopt.
Most Western societies (with the exception of England) base their adoption laws on the original Roman code or the later Napoleonic code. Most experts agree that U.S. adoption law has combined aspects of Roman law with its own U.S. adaptations.
Adoption is a far newer institution in Europe, which has followed the lead of the United States. The first adoption law in England was the Adoption of Children Act of 1926. The Swedes enacted their first Adoption Act in 1917, and in 1959 adopted children in Sweden became full-fledged family members by law. Modern adoption laws came into being in West Germany in 1977.
It is critically important to understand that adoption laws and practices should be evaluated based on their functionality and the existing conditions of the time rather than on our contemporary values only. How adoption was and is now perceived in society and how adoption was and is now actually practiced has depended on a myriad of factors: social, economic and political conditions; societal attitudes toward parent less and deprived children; out-of-wedlock births; minimum standards of parenting; views on parental rights and children's rights; views on the importance of property and inheritance as well as other issues in the social order; the perception of the overriding importance of blood ties; and religious and moral values. This essay will only be able to touch on key issues within several periods in past history and in modern times.
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©2000 by Christine Adamec and William Pierce, Ph.D. Reprinted from The Encyclopedia of Adoption, 2nd Edition (2nd Edition) with permission of Facts On File, Inc.
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