Academic journal article Population

Adoption in France and Italy: A Comparative History of Law and Practice (Nineteenth to Twenty-First Centuries)

Academic journal article Population

Adoption in France and Italy: A Comparative History of Law and Practice (Nineteenth to Twenty-First Centuries)

Article excerpt

Today, France and Italy have relatively similar adoption laws that differ from those in English-speaking countries. Since the 1990s, they have also been among those countries like Spain and, even more so, the United States, that have adopted the largest number of minors from other countries, unlike Germany or the United Kingdom, for example, which practise far less intercountry adoption, or Japan, where virtually no foreign minors are adopted.

Adoption is a legal institution that creates a parent-child relationship between an adopter and an adoptee that is not based on the adoptee being the biological offspring of the adoptive person or couple. Adoption enables the adoptee to inherit the adopter's surname and property.(1) French law distinguishes between simple adoption and full or plenary (plénière) adoption. Full adoption creates between an adopted minor and an adoptive person or couple a parent-child relationship that replaces that between the adoptee and his/her birth parents. Full adoption thus creates a new legal relationship, both exclusive and substitutory, whereby the adoptee takes on surname and inheritance rights solely from the adoptive family. Simple adoption, on the other hand, creates a parent-child relationship between the adoptee - who may well be an adult - and the adopter in addition to that existing between the adoptee and his/her birth parents. With simple adoption, the adoptee adds to his/her original surname and inheritance rights those received from the adopter.

Adoption has long been of interest to anthropologists (Fine, 1998), sociologists (Fisher, 2003) and psychologists (Savard, 2010), but demographers have only recently begun to analyse the phenomenon. Even now, the study of adoption occupies only a marginal place in demography, as can been seen from its virtual absence from the discipline's reference handbook (Caselli et al., 2001). Indeed, adoption has very little impact on population dynamics, and can only be studied in relation to law, a discipline that has few ties with demography. However, with the increasing number of intercountry adoptions, adoption has become a form of migration (Weil, 1984). Furthermore, since the 1940s, intercountry adoption has been linked to demographic crises (war, disease or famine) in the sending countries - not necessarily those with the lowest incomes or the highest birth rates - and with demographic and legal changes in the receiving countries, where the spread of contraception and abortion has reduced the number of abandoned, and therefore adoptable, minors (Selman, 2002).

Demographically speaking, it is of particular interest to compare adoption practices in France and Italy, for two reasons. First, no western country other than Italy has had adoption laws so similar to those of France for so long. Consequently, comparing adoption practices in the two countries makes it possible to identify variations "controlling for legal environment", i.e. differences in behaviour that are not due to differences in adoption law but in the opportunity or desire to adopt; in other words, differences in demographic behaviour. Second, comparing adoption practices in France and Italy enables us to examine not only full adoptions (particularly intercountry) but also simple adoptions, which do not exist in common-law countries like the United States, where there are no long-term aggregate or individual data on adoption (Carp, 1998; Davis, 2011; Herman, 2008; Lovelock, 2000).

This article presents a comparative history of adoption law and practice in France and Italy since the nineteenth century, analysing the degree of similarity between the two countries over the long term and the signification of the differences observed. We begin with a historical review of adoption law in France since 1804 and Italy since 1865. Then we look at variations in the annual numbers of full and simple adoptions. Last, distinguishing between domestic and intercountry full adoptions, we analyse their numbers and characteristics, and the demographic developments they reveal. …

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