Adoption in South Africa: the basics
Adoption is an act of love. Here are some of the basic facts that you'll need to know when opting for adoption.

A definition of adoption

Adoption is the legal act of permanently placing a child with a parent or parents other than the child’s birth/biological mother or father. A legal adoption order has the effect of terminating the parental rights of the birth mother and father, while transferring (i.e. ‘handing over to’) the parental rights and responsibilities to the adoptive parents. The adopted child must, for all intents and purposes, be regarded as the child of the adoptive parent/s.

Types of adoptions

Legal adoptions can take many forms. Here are a few phrases you may hear:

  • Related adoption: Adoption of a child by a person who is related to the child.  This includes step-parent adoptions where there are varying levels of openness between the parties in the adoption.
  • Disclosed adoption: The identity of the biological parent/s and the identity of the adoptive parent/s are known by both parties. This form of adoption may include a post-adoption agreement that provides for future contact or the exchange of information.
  • Closed adoption: In such a case, no identifying details are available and/or exchanged between the adoptive parents and biological parent/s.
  • Same-race adoption: The race of the adoptive parent/s and child is the same.
  • Inter-race adoption: The race of the child and adoptive parent/s differ.
  • National adoption: A legal adoption facilitated by an accredited adoption social worker and/or organisation where both the adoptive child and parent/s are South African citizens or have permanent residence in South Africa.
  • Intercountry adoption: A legal adoption facilitated by an accredited adoption organisation where either the child or parents are not South African citizens. South Africa is party to the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoptions and this practice is also regulated by Chapter 18 of the Children’s Act 38 of 2005.

The adoption process

For information about the adoption process, click here to read "Want to adopt a child?"

The role of professionals in the adoption process

If you are thinking about adoption, either facing a crisis pregnancy or wanting to adopt a child, you should be aware that a wide range of resources are available to offer expert assistance and guidance around the different parts of the process.

According to Section 250(1) of the Children’s Act (Act 38 of 2005), only certain people are allowed to provide adoption services – they are:

  1. a Child Protection Organisation accredited in terms of Section 251 to provide adoption services
  2. an adoption social worker (private practitioner as defined in the Act)
  3. the Central Authority in the case of intercountry adoptions, or
  4. a Child Protection Organisation accredited in terms of Section 259 to provide intercountry adoption services

Legal position: All adoption service providers must be accredited in terms of Section 251 of the Children’s Act and comply with the norms, standards and accreditation criteria.

Child Protection Organisations

CPOs designated in terms of Section 107 of the Children’s Act will be accredited to provide national adoption services, provided they meet the requirements for accreditation. CPOs may be accredited by the Central Authority to render intercountry adoption services, provided they render national adoption services and meet the requirements for accreditation.

Social workers in private practice

Social workers in private practice who have registered with the South African Council for Social Service Professions, in terms of the Social Services Professions Act (Act 110 of 1978), as specialising in adoption work will be accredited to render national adoption services, provided they meet the requirements for accreditation.

Government social workers

Government social workers are automatically designated to provide child protection services, including national and inter-country adoption services. However, they must have a minimum work experience of 3 years as social workers, before they are allowed to render adoption services.

Should you wish to apply for adoption accreditation you need to contact your nearest Department of Social Development.

Adoption norms & standards

Given the sensitive nature and life-changing impactadoption has on the people involved, it’s not surprising that there are many norms and standards set out to ensure good adoption practices. Of course, these norms and standards only mean something if they are applied and internalised by the various industry role players.

We would like to emphasise the following key principles subscribed to by the authorities and social infrastructures in the adoption environment:

  • It is imperative to create awareness campaigns to promote adoption as part of a country’s child protection services.
  • All avenues to keeping a child within his or her own family are explored before adoption is considered.
  • Adoption must be handled by expert and accredited adoption social workers functioning within a statutory adoption system.
  • The approach should take account of and address the changing social, physical, cognitive and cultural needs of the child and his/her family.
  • No discriminatory practices are allowed against birth parents, adoptive parents and/or adoptees in respect of race, gender, language, religion, disability, financial means or any other status.
  • An important consideration is that the particular needs of the child are matched with the special strengths of the adoptive family.

Statistics and facts about adoption in South Africa

Adoption statistics

  • According to statistics on adoptions, as released by the National Department of Social Development, there were 14 803 legal adoptions registered in South Africa for the period 1 April 2004 to 31 March 2010. That amounts to more or less 2,400 adoptions per year. This number includes related adoptions.
  • This amounts to a relatively small percentage of children placed when compared to alternative forms of legal care, such as foster care and residential care (refer to the table below). When considering the high and ever growing number of children orphaned and abandoned, it is clear that despite the high estimated number of adoptable children the annual number of adoptions has stayed low and static over the past 6 years.
  • When comparing national adoptions with intercountry adoption statistics, the average number of children placed for intercountry adoptions per year is 238 – a very small figure. Currently there are no statistics available that can give an accurate breakdown of the number of same-race and inter-race adoptions in South Africa.

Children by care placement arrangement in South Africa, 2007 - 2010

Estimated number of children in foster care and receiving foster care grants in January 2010

Estimated number of  orphaned children  in 2007

Estimated number of  children living in child-headed households in 2009

Estimated number of children in state-owned children’s homes as at end-October 2009

510 713

668 000

150 000

14 599

For more information about adoption call 0800 864 658 or log onto for assistance and advice. Also read Trinity Heart, blogger Sharon van Wyk's online adoption resource.

Please note that we can't publish any contact details in the comments below due to the rising incidence of adoption fraud. Always work through a reputable social worker or adoption agency.

Read Parent24’s Comments Policy publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

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