Adopting a child

Mother with adopted baby

Adoption is the legal act of permanently placing a child with a parent or parents other than the child’s birth mother or father.

A legal adoption order ends the parental rights of the birth mother and father and hands over the parental rights and responsibilities to the adoptive parents.

Who may adopt a child in South Africa? 

According to the Children’s Act (Act 38 of 2005), a child may be adopted:

  • jointly by a husband and wife (who are classified as) 
    • partners in a permanent domestic life-partnership, or
    • people sharing a common household and forming a permanent family unit,
  • by a widower, widow, divorced or unmarried person,
  • by a married person whose spouse is the parent of the child,
  • by the biological father of a child born out of wedlock, or
  • by the foster parent of the child.

Types of adoptions

There are various forms of legal adoptions, these are:

  • 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 or open 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.
  • 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.
  • Inter-race adoption: The race of the child and adoptive parent(s) differ.
  • Inter-country 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 Inter-country Adoptions. This practice is also regulated by Chapter 18 of the Children’s Act 38 of 2005.

Note: To legalise any inter-country adoptions it is important that social workers get in contact directly with the Registrar of Adoptions in Pretoria via the Departmental Provincial Head Office with the Affiliated Bureau for International Social Services (ISS) in South Africa.

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Adopting a baby

There are 4 phases in the adoption process:

1. Application 

  • In South Africa, the only way in which you can legally adopt a child is by working through an accredited adoption agency, or with the assistance of an adoption social worker, functioning within the statutory accredited adoption system.
  • When working through an adoption agency, the process usually starts with the prospective adoptive parents submitting an application to the agency. 
  • Each agency has its own set of requirements – it’s a good idea to phone the particular agency to get their set of criteria before you actually apply in writing. 

2. Screening process

  • All prospective adoptive parents are required to undergo a screening and preparation process. This normally involves:
    • orientation meetings,
    • interviews with a social worker,
    • full medical examinations,
    • marriage and psychological assessments,
    • home visits, and
    • police clearance and the checking of references.
  • The screening process allows social workers to get to know prospective adopters as a family, their motivation to adopt and their ability to offer a child a warm, loving and stable home.

3. Waiting list

  • Once the screening process is complete, applicants are placed on a waiting list for a child. Applicants have their own ideas and wishes about the child they wish to adopt.
  • They can decide about the age and sex of the baby or child they would like to adopt, and adoption agencies will try to meet those personal expectations.

4. Placement

  • The official placement of the child with the adoptive parents is a legal process, carried out through the Children’s Court.
  • Once the child has been with the new parents for a period of time, and the social worker has assessed the adoption to be in the best interests of the child, the adoption is finalised through the Children’s Court.
  • The child then becomes the legal child of the adoptive parents as if the child was born to them and has all the same rights as a biological child.

Adopting a child in South Africa

Accredited and designated child protection organisations 

Note: Some of the above organisations may charge a fee relating to adoption.

Welfare agencies involved in foster care 

Find out more about:

Provided by:
Government Body: (Western Cape Government)
The content on this page was last updated on 5 June 2015