Children are considered to be a very significant and primary feature in a marriage in most African societies with particular reference to Nigeria. Couples who are unable to bear children are often subjected to pressure and ridicule especially from relatives and friends because of the premium placed on procreation. Women are predominantly held responsible for infertility in their marriages regardless of who is responsible. The importance of children to people varies for different reasons. It may be for the inheritance of family legacies, the experience of parenthood, perceived social security in old age or to satisfy their cultural or religious norms.
One of the alternative solutions to infertility management is adoption. Adoption is the legal procedure where a child’s rights and duties towards his birth parents are terminated legally and conferred on his adoptive parents. It is noticeable that despite the fact that adoption is one of the viable solutions to infertility, most people are still unenthusiastic about adopting children. This situation is prevalent due to the negative perception of society towards adoption. It is considered a thing of stigmatisation and of shame. The shame and ridicule attached to adoption has further led to the scourge of child harvesting otherwise referred to as baby factory where women and most times, pregnant teenage girls are sheltered for the sole reason of giving up their children after birth in exchange for financial compensation. People who engage in this unscrupulous act would rather buy these children and falsely represent them as their biological children as to garner validation from the society.
However, in recent times, the trend is changing and people are now becoming more receptive to the culture of child adoption as an alternative to combat infertility Others reasons why more are considering adoption are for social reasons, to have particular sex of a child or to expand their family. This is evident in the growing number of applications received in huge numbers on a weekly basis by government institutions in charge of adoptions.
The Child Rights Law of different states is the principal law regulating the process of adoption in Nigeria. All applications connected to adoptions must be made through the courts though the procedure is commenced at the supervising ministry. The court is the only institution conferred with the jurisdiction to grant adoption orders. It is imperative to state that the process of adoption may be tedious and time-consuming. In light of this, applicants are often advised of the need to be enduring during this process. The time facto is a global phenomenon and not peculiar to Nigeria alone. It is not a mechanism to frustrate or discourage applicants rather; it is so because of the sensitive nature of the procedure. Adoption involves a life-changing decision that regulates human life which affects both the adoptive parents and the adopted children. The rights and duties of natural parents is permanently extinguished and transferred to another parent. The sensitivity of this process is the reason why the courts are always circumspect in any adoption proceedings. There have been situations where adopted children have been subjected to abuse, neglect and deprivation by their adoptive parents. Applicants are thoroughly scrutinised and assessed to ensure that the best decision is made in the interest of the child. The court has to be satisfied that the prospective adoptive parents have the physical, financial, social, spiritual and emotional capacity and suitability to undertake this role.
Adoption could be local, international or relative adoption. Relative adoption is adoption by a family member of the child which could be due to the death of the parents of the child or the inability of the birth parents to cater for the child financially. It could also be an adoption by a step-parent. Further, adoption could be open or fully closed. A closed adoption is where the birth parents of the child cannot have contact with the child under any circumstance while open adoption allows such contact. This depends largely on the type of order granted by the court. For the purpose of this article, the laws of adoption in Lagos state will be considered.
The welfare unit of the Lagos Ministry of Youth and Social Development is the department vested with the task of supervision of adoption procedures. Children that may be adopted are:
•Children who become motherless due to the death of the mother or the mother absconding after the delivery of the child. The father could place the children in the Motherless Babies home upon the payments of stipends for the upkeep of the child till the age of three. If the child remains unclaimed after the age of three, the child would be transferred to a juvenile centre.
•Children in need of protection. These are children whose parents died suddenly and there are no traceable or known relatives who are keen to foster the child. Children who are found wandering without any known relative also falls within this category.
•The third category is the abandoned and neglected children who are found on the streets or children who are persistently abused or ill-treated and there are compelling reasons for the adoption.
The adoption process is commenced by a written application to the welfare unit of the Ministry of Youth and Social Development. The reasons for the proposed adoption must be stated in the application. The required documents that must accompany the application are the Marriage certificates, birth certificates, medical certificate of fitness from a government facility, proof of employment, six months statement of account, income tax clearance certificate, means of valid identification, six months payslip, coloured passport photographs of the applicants and the prescribed statutory fees. After these documents have been reviewed, a formal meeting is thereafter scheduled between the officials of the Ministry and the prospective adopters. The purpose of the meeting is to assess the physical and mental state of the adopters.
There is usually a mandatory pre, post counselling panel and screening sessions that must be attended by the prospective adopters. A further home assessment of the adopters is embarked upon to ensure the home would be conducive for the prospective adopted child. In some cases, the social workers would interview the neighbours, family, friends and co-workers of the adopters to further assess the suitability of the applicants. If the Social welfare officers are satisfied with the prospects of the adopters, a letter of approval is transmitted to them to commence the search for a suitable child at government-approved orphanage homes. Once a suitable child is found, the child would be taken home to bond with the applicants for a probationary period of three months.
After the expiration of the three months bonding period, the applicants must apply to the court for the legalisation of the adoption process. A comprehensive report prepared by the social welfare officer must accompany the application. Documents which must be attached to the application are the marriage certificate, birth certificate, medical certificate of fitness from a government hospital, proof of employment, income tax clearance certificate, LASG approved letter of adoption. LASG letter of introduction to the Orphanage, letter from the orphanage stating that a baby had been found, letter of authority to collect the child, police extract and covering note, pictures of the child and the applicants and the pictures of the baby alone.
It is instructive to note that in any proceeding that involves a child, the primary consideration of the court is the best interest of the child. The court is under a statutory duty to consider if the adoption would be in the best interest of the child. A welfare officer is appointed for the child to assist the court in arriving at the best decision in the circumstance. The Court shall, in reaching a decision relating to the adoption of a child, have regard to all the circumstances, first consideration being given to the need to safeguard and promote the welfare and the best interest of the child.
There are some statutory requirements that must be satisfied by the applicants before an adoption order can be made by the court. First, the court must be satisfied that there are no known parents of the child after due enquiry has been made or guardian who has a right or obligation in respect of the child. If the parents or the guardian of the child are available, their consent is very fundamental to the grant of the application. In case of a child that is abandoned, neglected or persistently abused or ill-treated, the grant of the order must be for compelling reasons which must be in the interest of the child.
The court must be satisfied that no payment has been made in respect of the adoption except for the administrative fees payable to the government. In addition, there are certain restrictions in respect of persons who may adopt or can be adopted. In Lagos, only children aged seventeen years and below can be adopted. In adoption which involves the parents voluntarily giving out their children for adoption, it is mandatory that the child must be over the age of one year. Further, in respect of people who can adopt, two different people other than a married couple cannot adopt a child. This simply means that cohabiting parties are precluded from the process of adoption. Single persons who are over the age of thirty-five years can adopt but the child to be adopted must be the same sex with the applicant. That means that a male applicant can only adopt a male child likewise a female applicant can only adopt a female child. In a joint adoption by a married couple, one of the parties must be resident in Lagos for a minimum of five years. In addition, one of the parties must be at least twenty-five years old and must be at least twenty-one years older than the child. It is also a requirement applicants are Nigerian citizens. The probationary period of three months is also fundamental to the application. This is to assess the suitability and compatibility of both the adoptive parents and prospective adopted child. An application for an adoption order will only be considered for procedures which commenced after a minimum of one year before the court proceedings.
In conclusion, adoption is very effective in infertility management and should be encouraged rather than despised by society.
Written by, Olamide Onifade, Senior Partner, Olamide Onifade & Associates
149, Ogudu Road, Ogudu. Tel: 09093335636 Email:barristerolamideonifade@Gmail.com
READ ALSO: IBADAN BIZMAN, FEMI OYE CELEBRATES 60 BIRTHDAY
Send Us News, Gist, more... to firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter: @CitypeopleMagz