Half a century of adoption history in the Netherlands

On 1 November 1956, half a century ago to the day, the Dutch adoption law came into force. Since then, 60 thousand children have been adopted in the Netherlands. Approximately two-thirds of them came from other countries.

From foster status to legal status

In the first half of the twentieth century, more and more children were placed with foster parents. The legal position of foster parents and foster children was not very solid, because the biological parents could always reclaim the child. The foster parents were not legally obliged to provide for the child. This changed, when the adoption law was introduced in 1956, which made it possible for a foster family to adopt a foster child as their legitimate child.
Such non-stepparent adoptions do not involve (one of) the biological parents. Since 1979, the law also allows for stepparents to adopt a child: the (new) partner of one of the biological parents adopts his or her stepchild.

Rapid increase adoptions in the 1970s

Until the late 1960s, a few hundred children were adopted in the Netherlands each year. Nearly all of them were Dutch children relinquished for adoption by unwed mothers.
Subsequently, the number of adoptions increased rapidly to 2.4 thousand in 1981. In the ensuing years, the number gradually fell to over 900 adoptions in 1998. Since then, it has increased considerably to reach 1.7 thousand in 2005.


Mainly foreign children

From the mid-1970s, adoption of Dutch children declined and, at the same time, adoption of foreign children increased noticeably. In 1981, the number of non-stepparent adoptions from other countries increased to more than 1.5 thousand.

Non-stepparent adoptions from other countries

At first, adoptive children came from countries on the European continent. Later, they came from South Korea and from the late 1970s, they also came from Indonesia, India and Colombia. In recent years, there has been a sharp increase in the number of adoptive children – mostly girls – from China. 

Adoptive children from China 1995-2005

New types of adoption

Since 1998, the law provides for the right of unwed cohabitants and singles to adopt children. Since 2001, same-sex couples are also allowed to adopt children, but the number of non-stepparent adoptions by same-sex couples and singles remains small, because most other countries disallow adoption by same-sex couples and singles. In two out of three cases, stepparent adoptions involve a stepmother and the biological mother who care for the child together.

Arno Sprangers and Jurriën de Jong