How to find your birth parents in South Africa


"If you know whence you came, there are absolutely no limitations to where you can go."

We've all heard this James Baldwin quote in some form or another, and while the desire to learn as much about our personal history is one many of us can relate to, for adoptees, the words take on an entirely different meaning. 

How does one go about finding birth parents in SA?  

All adoptions in South Africa are registered with the Registrar of Adoptions at the National Department of Social Development situated in Pretoria. These records are kept for a period of 70 years.

According to the Children’s Act, an adoptee may request his adoption records and start searching for his biological parents when he is 18 years old. 

The same applies to adoptive parents, who will also be able to access adoption records, but only when their adopted child turns 18.

Access to adoption records in the case of biological parents is a little more complicated. 

What about a biological parent's rights?

Before 1987 biological parents were not allowed to search for their child, but this legislation has since changed.

Once a child turns 18, a biological parent is legally allowed to enquire, but will only be given information if the child and adoptive parents have given their written permission.

If the biological parent enquires about the child before the child decides to access the records, the request will be relayed to the child once he requests the records.

Where do you start?

Firstly, you must speak to your adoptive parents about your plans. It is important that you are honest with them.

Ask them for any information about your adoption, biological family or anything else that might help.

Dependent on whether you were adopted via a private or government agency, you can start by requesting your adoption records through the following groups: 

  • The adoption agency that handled your adoption
  • A local social worker
  • The Registrar of Adoptions in Pretoria
  • A private locating specialist

You will need the following information:

  • Where you were born
  • The date you were born
  • Your full name
  • Your ID number
  • Your current address
  • The full names of your adoptive parents and their ID numbers
  • Who handled the adoption
  • Any additional information you might have to narrow down the search.

Getting in touch 

Once you’ve received your adoption records, you need to decide whether you want to actually meet your biological parents.

You can use an adoption agency or private locating specialist to find them, but most adoptees use a specialist – they are generally faster, albeit more expensive.

For New Zealand based adoptee, Alex Gilbert, Facebook proved useful. The Kiwi travelled all the way to Russia after finding his mom on the social media platform

Don't do it alone 

It is important to choose someone that can give you the counselling and support that you need for every step of this journey.

You also need to know that locating your biological parents can be very time-consuming – many factors can delay the process.

When your biological parents are found, the agency will find out how they want to proceed.

The unfortunate reality is that some biological parents do not want to meet the child – in that case you will be counselled to deal with the rejection and loss.

Most cases, however, will go to the next step – which is anything from corresponding to meeting. The agency will stay involved until both parties are comfortable with meeting each other personally.

Useful Sites:

Adoption SA

Adoptee Connect

If you were adopted, have you tried tracing your birth mom or dad? Tell us your story 

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