The politics of twentieth-centruy adoption : An International Comparative Approach

Journal article


Swain, Shurlee. (2021). The politics of twentieth-centruy adoption : An International Comparative Approach. Annales de Démographie Historique. 142(2), pp. 147-164. https://doi.org/10.3917/adh.142.0147
AuthorsSwain, Shurlee
Abstract

Arguably, adoption, the permanent removal of a child from one family to another is seldom politically neutral, but rather is marked by a power imbalance that is often denied by the legal processes through which it is authorised. The co-option of the term “forced adoption” by activists in several western countries has served to disrupt existing understandings of twentieth-century adoption as a benevolent welfare practice through which homes are found for “unwanted” children or a free market transaction through which infertile couples are able to construct families. While not without contestation, this disruption challenges historians of adoption to place their work in a wider context of national and international child removal practices. Drawing on the growing body of scholarship in English documenting such practices in different national contexts, this article maps the extent and variation in the ways in which governments have sanctioned the use of adoption to reinforce social policies in such areas as the assimilation of Indigenous or other racial minorities, repatriation of mixed descent children in the aftermath of colonialism, retribution against political opponents during conflicts and internal moral cleansing in peacetime, repressing the challenge to the patriarchal model of family posed by the rise in ex-nuptial births in the western world in the aftermath of World War II. The article identifies the national contexts in which adoption rather than institutionalisation became an accepted and, in some cases, the preferred method for achieving such aims. It argues that central to this transition was the ability to reconstruct such “tainted” children as acceptable to potential adoptive parents, initially presenting as motivated by benevolence, but increasingly driven by infertility. The consequent rise in demand in many instances pressured the supplying authorities to widen their definition of children that needed to be removed, creating supply chains, in locations as diverse as Australia, Spain, Nigeria and South Korea, through which expectant mothers were accommodated and provided with medical care on the understanding that they would surrender their child at birth. In such circumstances the freedom of the consent, on which the legal status of adoption is based, is severely compromised. By identifying instances in which the clear lack of consent in relation to children placed for adoption during war or civil disruption, particularly in Germany and Argentina, saw the adoptions disrupted, and in many instances reversed, the article explores the challenges that the attempts by contemporary activists to have adoptions in other contexts and jurisdictions classified as forced, or even illegal, pose for adoption into the future.

Year2021
JournalAnnales de Démographie Historique
Journal citation142 (2), pp. 147-164
PublisherEditions Belin
ISSN0066-2062
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)https://doi.org/10.3917/adh.142.0147
Scopus EID2-s2.0-85127710311
Page range147-164
Publisher's version
License
All rights reserved
File Access Level
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Output statusPublished
Publication dates
Online2021
Publication process dates
Deposited28 Jun 2023
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