Adoption - a history

The International Adoptee Congress was set up in 2006 as a membership organisation for adopted people from all over the world with the basic aim of improving the lot of adopted children by providing a forum to offer guidance and practical support to booth adoptees and other organisations concerned with adoption.
In older civilisations than ours the main reason for adoption was the continuation of a male-headed family line which was often desirable for political, military, religious or economic reasons and very often those who were brought into a family were often already adult and almost invariably male. It followed that no real effort had to be made to attend to their welfare and indeed the opposite was often the case since these young people were regularly destined for positions of power and influence.

Prior to the First World War the rights of children who were put up for adoption had not changed substantially for hundreds of years. The dreadful slaughter of the trenches, however, followed by the influenza pandemic left a great many children parentless; the loosening of sexual mores that were accelerated by the war then led, inexorably, to a huge increase in illegitimate births. All of a sudden governments throughout war-torn Europe and the USA were faced with a new problem; how to give all these children, who had already suffered so much, a stable and happy family life as well as an adequate diet and a satisfactory education. Even so, in the UK it was not until 1926 that adoption became a legal possibility; well behind much of the rest of the western world.


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The next great conflagration, World War Two, may have led to fewer military casualties but the death toll of civilians surpassed those of WW1 many times over. Another factor in the equation was that the war spilled over into territories all over the world and the almost inevitable consequence of this was that American and European soldiers, sailors and airmen fathered children by women of different races and international adoption started to become widespread. As it became more socially acceptable to adopt children from abroad thousands of families welcomed arrivals from areas of the world which were scarred by conflict, oppressive regimes or military disasters. This was not without problems since the majority of parents were white and financially comfortable and many of the children were coloured and from far poorer communities; claims that this amounted to cultural genocide came up against equally arguable claims that the children were being shown a better life and that inter-racial adoption was a powerful weapon in breaking down racial as well as class prejudices. The arguments still continue to this day.

The next major change for adoption came in the 1960s with the discovery of effective means of birth control, and with it a greater sexual freedom. Not only were fewer children being born but also it became more acceptable for a young mother to rear a child on her own. As a consequence there were far fewer children available for adoption and with the change in moral attitudes came a change in the accepted criteria for the suitability of prospective adoptive parents; single parent adoptions became acceptable in many countries and even adoption by couples of the same sex, a factor viewed by some as the height of civilised behaviour, by others as the depths of depravity. One must make one's own decision on which view is the correct one.

Copyright 2008