Changing Names to Assimilate...and Back Again
Summer Reading - Métronome

Child Abandonment - Is It Better in France or Eastern Europe?

Mother and child

Being a parent is tough; to do it well requires pots of cash, strength of character, intelligence, stamina, the ability to endure torture by sleep deprivation without going insane, and the capacity for unconditional love. Becoming a parent is as easy as a sneeze. Not all who manage the latter have or want even part of the list in the former. There are parents who want their babies and there are those who do not. When they do not, they sometimes do ugly things, which the rest of some societies abhor and try to prevent.

We have written about how the problem of infanticide and child abandonment has been dealt with in France. Guest blogger, Pablo Briand, wrote about foundlings in France, enfants trouvés. We wrote in our post on Pregnancy Declarations of the 18th century effort on the part of the government to require every pregnant woman to register her pregnancy so that the fate of the child could be monitored (generally by the local busybody) and, with luck, its safety ensured. We have guided you, Dear Readers, to the books by Rachel Fuchs on the subject: Abandoned Children, and  Poor & Pregnant in Paris.  

For the genealogist, an abandoned child among one's ancestors is a research -- because it is an administrative -- dead end. While many adopted children may have a paper trail which could, in the rare case, lead to the discovery of the natural parents and thus, allow the research of that line to continue, for the abandoned child, there is no chance of such documentation.

The problem continues - both socially and genealogically (and of course, personally, for those involved) -- today. In France, a mother can choose to go to a hospital and deliver her child completely anonymously, giving him or her up immediately for adoption in the procedure known as Accouchement sous X. Currently on BBC News is an article about Baby Boxes in Europe, where parents can leave an unwanted baby in a box at a secluded place in a hospital wall, a practice "common in medieval Europe". There is a letter for the mother in the box, explaining how she can change her mind without fear of prosecution. It also encourages her to leave her name, "for the child".

Which system is better? Critics of the baby box point out that the mother may be forced to give up her baby, may not even be the one to put it in the box. The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child oppose the baby boxes on the grounds that they encourage a parent to deprive a child of its basic right to know who its parents are. They oppose Accouchement sous X on the same grounds. The supporters of the baby boxes and anonymous parenthood say that they are saving the lives of babies who would otherwise be killed. As always, when idealism and pragmatism butt heads, the central issue, in this case a child and its mother, can be lost. A lovely French film, Brodeuses ("A Common Thread" in English), is about a young woman of seventeen who chooses Accouchement sous X; it tells the story from her point of view.

For those seeing the child's point of view, there are increasingly people and organizations who are willing to help him or her discover his biological identity. The Conseil National pour l'Accès aux Origines Personnelles (CNAOP), in the grandly named Ministry for Solidarity and Social Cohesion,  was established in 2002, essentially to undo the intended effect of Accouchement sous X, that of keeping the identity of the child's parents unknown. Its mission is to aid people to access whatever documentation may help them to determine who their parents were. There is also the Coordination des Actions pour la Droit à la Connaissance des Origines (CADCO), which was a bit more militant but seems to have gone quiet recently. 

In short,  there may be some possibilities for living people to discover their parents' identities. Unfortunately, we do not know of new possibilities for such discoveries that would aid the genealogist.


©2012 Anne Morddel

French Genealogy