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18 Jun 2012
Adoption has long been in practice not just in human society, but in animal kingdoms as well. Many have heard stories of animals adopting other animals of different species, let alone broods. The European Common Cuckoo employs obligate brood parasitism within the animal kingdom, like accidental baby-swapping in the maternity ward, except not accidental, wherein the Cuckoo lays her eggs in the nest of another bird. The Cuckoo chick then instinctually destroys the rival, original, eggs in the nest in order to grow the newcomers uncontested.

Maybe the Cuckoo knows it will be a bad parent. Maybe it’s lazy or it just breeds a lot. If an unconscious species can easily and without regret raise a different species, then it should follow that other species can raise strangers from within their own species. Adoption, a necessarily human construct, (after all, doesn’t everyone feel the urge to care for something small, harmless, cute, when they see it?), is the action or fact of adopting or being adopted. A person assumes the parenting of a youth, transferring all rights and responsibilities from the original parents. The Code of Hammurabi is a Babylonian, human-sized and etched stone, that details many of the laws of Babylonia, including adoption. This legal code was created by the Babylonian king Hammurabi around 1772 BC. Much like today, though not without unique Babylonian exceptions (such as a class system and the origination of “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”), adoption had to be achieved with the consent of the natural parents.

Ancient Rome had its adoption laws outlined in the Corpus Juris Civilis, a body of work commissioned by order of Justinian I. Adoption in Rome was popular among the senatorial class and was also used to help with a smooth imperial succession. Though where Nero, who was adopted, is concerned, the succession may not prove a good idea. It followed throughout the millennia to influence much of the Western legal tradition known and loved today. A large difference between adoptions today versus those of antiquity is that it was a legal tool to establish economic and political allegiance. Essentially, children were used as living currency, though usually treated better than any random coin. The patriarchy of Rome was perpetuated through adoption, the thought of the time being that men were better than women.

Ancient India and China used it not as a method of extending familial lines, but as a way to continue cultural and religious practices. In India, sons were adopted in order to perform the necessary funerary rights; in China, males were adopted primarily for ancestor worship. Adoption of females in ancient times is not widely mentioned, though it could be safe to assume that, as a woman’s position in ancient society was almost solely for breeding, the adoption was not for reasons of extending family lines or managing estates. As ridiculous as this reads, it is the truth. Adoption numbers for girls are high in places like China and India because of their reliance on sons.

The adoption process goes back many millennia but one thing is certain.  When a child is taking in by caring parents, everyone benefits.


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