31 March 2009

The Case Against Adoption: Part 1 - Ancient Adoptions

In my post introducing the case against adoption, I briefly (and I mean briefly!) skimmed the surface of ancient adoptions in a generalised sense.

Shortly after I published this post, it was pointed out to me by a dear friend that one of my statements regarding ancient adoption was not entirely accurate and so prompted me to look further into ancient adoption practises. What I discovered in some instances surprised me greatly.

This post then is about my findings. It is not written to be absolute fact, it is based on the information available to me and my own conclusions based on these facts.

One thing I did get right is that Adoption has been around for thousands of years. Whilst doing my research, the earliest legal references to adoption I could find, outside of the Bible, are The Code of Hammurabi aka Codex Hammurabi (written during the reign of Hammurabi, a ruler of Babylon from 1795-1750 BC) and The Justinian Code aka Codex Justinianus (circa 529 AD).

In both of these legal manuscripts, Adoption is well documented and both outline in some detail who can be adopted, who can adopt, any consents needed and how these are to be obtained and in what instances adoption can and cannot be revoked.

It appears Adoption was, in these early days, merely for the benefit of adults, the adopters, as it was commonly used to ensure the continuation of a family blood line, for inheritance purposes, political alliances and to care for elderly parents. It appears adoption was common for boys and young men for inheritance and procession purposes whilst adoption of females seemed kept to purposes of becoming a caregiver. For the most part, only men could adopt in Ancient Rome until around 291 AD when under special circumstances a woman was allowed to adopt eg the loss of a biological child.

According to the Code of Hammurabi (as translated by the Rev. Claude Hermann Walter Johns, M.A. Litt.D):
“Adoption was very common, especially where the father (or mother) was childless or had seen all his children grow up and marry away. The child was then adopted to care for the parents' old age. This was done by contract, which usually specified what the parent had to leave and what maintenance was expected. The real children, if any, were usually consenting parties to an arrangement which cut off their expectations. They even, in some cases, found the estate for the adopted child who was to relieve them of a care. If the adopted child failed to carry out the filial duty the contract was annulled in the law courts. Slaves were often adopted and if they proved unfilial were reduced to slavery again.

A craftsman often adopted a son to learn the craft. He profited by the son's labour. If he failed to teach his son the craft, that son could prosecute him and get the contract annulled. This was a form of apprenticeship, and it is not clear that the apprentice had any filial relation.

A man who adopted a son, and afterwards married and had a family of his own, could dissolve the contract but must give the adopted child one-third of a child's share in goods, but no real estate. That could only descend in the family to which he had ceased to belong. Vestals frequently adopted daughters, usually other vestals, to care for their old age.”

The Code of Hammurabi continues: “Adoption had to be with consent of the real parents, who usually executed a deed making over the child, who thus ceased to have any claim upon them. But vestals, hierodules, certain palace officials and slaves had no rights over their children and could raise no obstacle. Foundlings and illegitimate children had no parents to object. If the adopted child discovered his true parents and wanted to return to them, his eye or tongue was torn out.”

This is in contrast to another source which comments: “Adoption was not secretive or considered shameful, nor was the adopted boy expected to cut ties to his original family. Like a marriage contract, adoption was a way to reinforce inter-family ties and political alliances. The adopted child was often in a privileged situation, enjoying both original and adoptive family connections. Almost every politically famous Roman family used it.”

Indeed, Adoption was very common amongst well known and famous Romans, for example Augustus Caesar who was adopted by Julius Caesar, his great-uncle.

Adoption features strongly throughout the royal bloodlines of Rome. It is interesting to note however that not all were stranger adoptions; involving more kinship adoptions and most seemed to be of young children and not infants. It also appears that adoption within families was more of what we today see as a Guardianship arrangement. Apparently, during this time of History, infant adoption was rare. Abandoned children were sold into slavery rather than adopted.

Ancient Rome had two different forms of Adoption; one known as Adrogation which was when a free person consented to be adopted by another and usually this was the adoption of an adult male. The other type of adoption was Arrogation which is when one claims another for oneself without the right. The form of adoption Codex Justinianus refers to is arrogatio.

Interestingly, stranger adoption is not given the same rights as inter-family adoption.

The Codex Justinianus states: “....when a filiusfamilias is given in adoption by his natural father to a stranger, the power of the natural father is not dissolved; no right passes to the adoptive father, nor is the adopted son in his power, although we allow such son the right of succession to his adoptive father dying intestate. But if a natural father should give his son in adoption, not to a stranger, but to the son's maternal grandfather; or, supposing the natural father has been emancipated, if he gives the son in adoption to the son's paternal grandfather, or to the son's maternal great-grandfather, in this case, as the rights of nature and adoption concur in the same person, the power of the adoptive father, knit by natural ties and strengthened by the legal bond of adoption, is preserved undiminished, so that the adopted son is not only in the family, but in the power of his adoptive father.”

While trying to find research into adoptions in ancient Egypt, I found references to be rather generalised and vague. Fertility was extremely important and sacred to the ancient Egyptians and children considered as a blessing. The few references to adoption I did find mention orphans and not children out of other families. Due to the times, illness and disease often left children orphaned and so these children were adopted by those who could not have their own.

This seems to contrast greatly with the adoption practises of the ancient Romans who appeared to view children as merely a way of getting ahead politically or financially or who used adopted children as their caregivers. Orphaned and abandoned children were more likely to become a slave than be adopted; adoption was more common amongst the well-born.

Forms of adoption were also used in other ancient civilisations such as the ancient Japanese Shinto religion and Hindu.

So, I have established the fact adoption has been around for thousands of years. One would think therefore, this means as it is based on early civilisations, it is an acceptable institution and how could any of its history possibly aid a case against adoption?

How indeed?

I don’t know about you reader, but my revelations into ancient adoption have only solidified my resolve to see this institution abolished. Adoption, from what I have read (and I have read a lot more than what is represented above; there is just not enough time or space in a blog to go into all the details) has never, ever been about a child’s needs but only ever about an adults need. It is what adoption has been founded on... its whole existence is about exploitation and using children to secure what an adult wants.

What is so very tragic about this, is that this is seen as acceptable. So much so it has encouraged the rise of the Black Market adoption scandals, baby farming, child trafficking, exploitation of young and vulnerable women, money hungry agencies who see children for the number of dollars they can place on their heads and so on. How can anyone, with a clean conscience truly support such an institution? Adoption has only worsened really - records were not always sealed; this was a practise that began between the 1930's - 1950's (depending what country you originate from). To see how adoption has worsened, just look at the Baby Scoop Era in the USA and Canada, the Stolen Generations; both white and Aboriginal in Australia, the money making agencies using effective marketing tools to convince women they are not good enough to parent and therefore need to relinquish their as yet unborn babies. The list of adoption atrocities goes on and then there is International adoption and the scandals associated there.

Adoption as it has always been practised and continues to be practised contravenes the United Nations Charter of Human Rights and the Convention of the Rights of the Child. Surely if adoption breaches a person's basic right to know who they are that says something about it?

So okay, you say, what then? What if adoption is gone and no longer exists? What about all those children who are abandoned (although this number is greatly exaggerated), abused, neglected etc? What do we do with them?

From what I gather, adoption as it is right now appears to be more about infant adoption than adoption for those children who are in need of a stable home. Cute newborns who are supposedly (according to some uninformed individuals) blank slates, are in the highest demand. Children languishing in our foster care systems are the biggest proof that adoption is about the adults and not the children. If more people were interested in caring for children, less children would fall into the foster care system.

If, as a society, we truly were compassionate about the needs and best interests of a child, we would be bending over backwards to get these children out of unstable situations such as temporary foster homes and be offering permanent solutions. Instead, more and more children languish in the system and still more infants are in demand to be adopted.

Okay, getting back to what we could have instead of adoption. PERMANENT CARE orders where PERMANENT means just that. A child who needs to be in the care of another family does not need to have their identity erased. Adoption does that for the adults sake, not the child’s. Sealing records and hiding birth certificates benefits nobody in the long run. Contact with the family of Origin would not need to be a threat if it was conducted in the best interests of the child.

As intelligent human beings (at least I hope we are), there is no reason ethically and morally why we cannot work out another alternative to adoption. There is no real reason we cannot abolish adoption and yet still provide care for these precious children who truly need it.

As for the teenage pregnancy rate. We need to investigate the cause as to why this happens. Is there a lack of proper education? A lack of self worth? Morality issues? Society needs to look at itself with its eyes wide open and face the truth of what it has have become today.

Our children are crying out for our attention and we do nothing. The family values so important not so long ago seem to have vanished into thin air.

Society appears to favour applying quick fixes and band aids to issues that are complex. Adoption is just one area. Getting rid of it and finding new alternatives that delve deeper into the issues that cause children to be in these situations would be a good start.

Its time to change the thinking about adoption. Look past the popular view, past the personal ideals and desires and really see the stark, naked truth that is adoption. An institution with a foundation based on an adults needs with resounding and devastating consequences. An archaic law with a guillotine approach that severs a child's past with their natural family; taking away name, culture, heritage and replacing it with a stranger's. Legislation that allows a document that belongs to the individual it represents to be hidden away; sealed for all time.... replaced with another that is effectively based on a lie.

Back in ancient times, little was known about the damages adoption would cause. It is obvious adoptees back then tried to return to their families which is why the Code of Hammurabi includes a law that states an adopted person will have their eye cut out or their tongue cut off if they sought out their origins.

One thing as a modern society we have done, is look into the pain adoption has caused. Knowing what we do now, it is time to make the last step and end adoption once and for all.

- The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

- Convention on the Rights of The Child

- The Code of Hammurabi - information used from the Avalon Project, Yale Law School

- Codex Justinianus - information used from Medieval Sourcebook: The Institutes, 535 CE

- Wikipedia which cited references from John Boswell "The Kindness of Strangers" and Brodzinsky and Schecter "The Psychology of Adoption"

- Numerous websites and articles


  1. Myst,
    really good presentation of really interesting history. This reveals the roots of many people's real attitude towards adoption I think. Now I'm more curious how it was revamped, I guess in the thirties, to bring babies to market as a shameless positive form of "rescue". With this background it really does seem like modern adoption is the result of an entrepreneur's dream, repackaging the benefits of human ownership or getting them before they know what's going on. I don't mean to be negative but it really is harsh

  2. Wow! This is an incredible piece of research on the history of adoption!!! Thank you for posting it, and I look forward to reading more!

  3. Myst, just a slight correction on when closed records began in the US. In California, records began to be seal in the 1930's, not the 1950's.

    Excellent post. I'm enjoying reading on the history of adoption this way.

  4. Oh, sorry... thanks for the clarification and the info BGW :) Thanks also for popping by!

    Myst xxx

  5. I *think* that the records in California were close in 1932, but I'd have to double check that.

    And what's "BGW"? I'm up on most internet lingo, but that one has me stumped. :)


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