Towards a sociology of adoption

Data from Ministry of Women and Child Development suggest that out of 11649 adoption in India 6962 are girl child. A country which has stitched son meta preference as biological child, it seems strange superficially to find daughters are in demand for adoption.

However a feminine bias in adoption is a generic global trend. Most of sociological studies beyond India have underlined this type of gender bias. Yet the underlying rationality has remained unexplored. And one of the most obvious reason behind this is the fact that the subject of adoption itself has found little consonance in sociologist circle, despite the fact that it has multi-spectral influence on kinship and family.

This article will attempt to review three things :

  1.  How adoption is relevant to sociology? what do we talk about when we talk about sociology of adoption?
  2. What sociological trends have been observed through adoption?
  3. Is there any significant gender bias in adoption? what explains the gender bias?

How adoption is relevant to sociology ?

Statistically India is way behind USA in adoption. While almost 4% of Americans were adopted (a 1998 survey), in case of India the number is insignificant enough to put a percentage. Thus relevance of adoption finds little presence in Indian sociological studies. Despite the fact that adoption receives little attention from sociologists, there are atleast 4 reasons why adoption should be of greatest interest for sociologists –

  1. As family system is getting diverse with inclusive concept of household, single parent families and families headed by gay and lesbian partners, adoption is becoming sine qua non for understanding sociology of marriage and family.

Thus adoption becomes instrument to creation of families across the boundaries of caste, religion and race. And hence it is shattering the conventional model of  the racially homogeneous and heterosexual nuclear units.

2. Some sociologist argue that families are not just product of blood relations but are increasingly a social construction. In Italian culture the concept of ‘Godfather’ and in African culture the identity of ‘sociological daddies’ very well exhibit the social construction argument of family. While a conventional family is identified as families we inherit or families we are destined to, adoption opens the conception of families we choose. By letting a child join a family of stranger, it draws s a new ‘lineament of kinship’. 

3. Adoption should also intrigue sociologist as it raises a pertinent question about the identity confusion in the adopted child. American sociologist Allen Fisher asserts – do children adopted by family of different nationality face serious conflict about identity? Is adoption a latent exploitation of lower class women for the benefit of infertile middle class urban women?

4. Sociological understanding of population remains dysfunctional and incomplete without understanding adoption as adoption profoundly affects lives of adopted, adopting family and their relatives, and family that puts their kid for adoption.

Thus adoption acts as a functional site at which culture at large persist and hence observations on trends of adoption becomes crucial.

Trends of adoption

In India and even beyond infertility is one of the major factor leading to adoption. However a substantial minority of adoptive parents are motivated by altruism rather than infertility. Making a comparative analysis between in-country and inter country adoption, inter country adoptions are more likely to be altruism motivated. This assertion gets reflected in studies of Goodman and Kim who explored the motives of American families who had adopted Indian children from Mother Teresa orphanages.

Stigma attached with adoption in India is still persistent. For rural societies and for societies still having feudalistic characteristics persistent, it is arguably infallible to bring a stranger kid in the lineament of kinship. Families prefer to spend years of infertile married life circumventing around priests and temples in quest of divine blessings instead of applying for adoption in CARE agency. Thus Indian society will take its time to shrug off the old tag of stigmatization attached with adoption in form of the ‘bastard child’ and the ‘barren couple’. And this will depend on our progress from customary morality to constitutional morality. Nullification of Sec 377 is a step ahead. New Adoption norms brought in 2017 however deserves a re look. 

One more important trend explicit in adoption is the difference between expressed attitude and actual behavior. While we all express a positive attitude of appreciation towards the act of adoption, when it comes to take a personal decision of adoption -variety of fears derail the actual behavior. Because, as Creedy observes despite the warm sentiments surrounding adoption society still sees it as second best only.

And lastly gender bias and racial biases remains significant not only in India but across the globe while matching the right child with the right family. Reports suggest case of white skin child preferred for adoption in India which reflects how much our colonial understanding of beauty has remained cemented in our psychology. As for race, in USA a non-African-American baby has a probability of attracting the interest of an adopting parent at least seven times as high as the corresponding probability for an African American baby.

More over 60% of children adopted are girl in India (69% in case of Inter -country adoption). Thus a significant gender bias is explicit in adoption. The right question to ask here is what explains such a gender bias in a country where son meta preference is customarily attached.


What explains the gender bias ? 

One rational assertion forwarded is some of the studies suggest that since adopting parents fear of dysfunction behavior in adopted child, they perceive girl child less risky. We can also not undermine the medical fact that a girl child is considered more immune and adaptive to uneven conditions that a male child.

Adding to above an individual’s preference for similarity may also be a driving force for adopting girl child. Single Mother largely prefer to adopt a girl child. Also in a normal family since mother is the prime responsive nuclei in child care, mother’s decision to choose the gender becomes the focal factor in adoption. Thus preference for similarity explains why more mother are biased towards adopting a girl child.

Moreover families that adopt are largely coming from urban middle and upper class. It will be naive to assume that the expected lines of son meta preference in general will get expressed in their adoption decision. Hence the very assumption that adoption should be male biased remains void.

Superficially we may tend to believe that girls are more adopted because there are more girls available in adoption agencies. Adoption is a personal predefined choice. It can’t work on a typical demand supply market model.

Though little sociological studies have been done to explain such a gender bias, we must not forget that incoming of a new woman in Indian family (Kulbadhu) is synonymous to incoming of goddess Laxmi – a carrier of luck and fortune. Daughters in demand may be thus, an expression of welcoming luck and fortune home.


Until next time 


n.b this blog also appeared at Hashtag Social

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