Samuel Okolie: Child adoption process in Nigeria
WHAT IS ADOPTION
According to Black’s law dictionary, adoption is “the statutory process of terminating a child’s legal rights and duties towards the natural parents and substituting similar rights and duties towards adoptive parents”. Adoption simply put, is the act of one who takes another’s child into his own family treating him or her as his own family and giving him or her all the rights and duties of his own child.
REASONS FOR ADOPTION
There are a number of reasons why people resort to adoption, but the most pre-eminent and common reason for resorting to adoption is childlessness. other reasons range from a desire to acquire a companion for an only child, to replace a dead child, to stabilize a marriage, or to sustain a particular line of descent or to legitimize the status of a child born out of wedlock/ by teenage pregnancy, to rescue a child who is in an irreversible situation of abandonment, or to relieve parents who are unable to take care of their child. Many people adopt simply to give a home and family to children who might not otherwise have them. The reasons adduced above are not conclusive, as there might be other reasons behind a person’s decision to adopt a child.
WHO MAY ADOPT
The provisions of the Child Rights Act 2003 which is the principal legislation regulating adoption in Nigeria, sets out the required qualifications a person must fulfil to be eligible to adopt a child. Order 26(1)(h) states that the applicant must not be less than 25 years of age and is at least 21 years older than the child. Where the applicant is unmarried, evidence must be shown that he or she has attained the age of 35 years and the child to be adopted is the same sex with him or her (see Order 26(1)(j) of the Act). The Act went further to provide that the applicant should be a person of unquestionable integrity(see Order 26 (1) (g)). In addition to these and most importantly, the applicant must have the necessary financial clout and means to take adequate care of the child.
What this simply means is that any person who is an adult can bring an application for adoption, provided he satisfies the above mentioned criteria. However, in practice the court will hardly grant an application for adoption made by a single person.
WHO MAY BE ADOPTED
It is only a Juvenile that can be adopted. However, the term juvenile has no uniform definition. In Edo and Delta states, a juvenile is one who is eighteen years and below, while in states like Lagos, Anambra, Imo and Ogun, a juvenile is one who is under the age of seventeen. So once a child fall under the age of eighteen or seventeen years bracket, depending on the state, the child is suitable for adoption.
PROCEDURE FOR ADOPTION
Order 26(1) of the Child Rights Act provide thus “that an application for adoption shall be made to the court as prescribed in form 3 and shall be accompanied with the relevant documents”. (The documents will be listed anon). However in practice, the application is not made directly to the court rather the application is made by way of a letter addressed to the ministry of youth and social development depending on the state, and accompanied with the relevant documents. Once the ministry is satisfied with the application and the relevant document, the ministry will send all the relevant documents to the court, and the judge or magistrate depending on the case, may decide whether to hear the application in open court or in chambers- see order 26(2) of the Child Rights Act.
The court having been satisfied with the application and the relevant documents, will direct the welfare officer or child development officer to go and investigate the character and suitability of the applicant as an adopter as well as the child to be adopted. See order 26(3) of the Child Rights Act.
Once the Court is satisfied with the application and the report of the welfare officer, the court will make an adoption order. But if the court is dissatisfied, the court will revoke the adoption order. In either case, the court will make an order containing a direction to the chief registrar and appropriate child development services to file the order in the adopted children Register. See order 26(4)(a) of the Act.
The court shall also in placing the child for adoption, have regard as far as practicable, to the wishes of the parents and the guardian of the child, to the religious upbringing of the child. See order 26(5) of the Act.
RELEVANT DOCUMENTS TO BE SUBMITTED FOR AN ADOPTION
The following documents will accompany the application for adoption:
(a) Where the applicant is a married couple, their marriage certificate or sworn declaration of marriage;
(b) Birth certificate or sworn declaration of age of the applicant or each of the applicants as the case may be;
(c) Two passport photographs of the applicants or each of the applicant as the case may be;
(d) A medical certificate of fitness of the applicant or each of the applicants from a government hospital;
(e) Evidence that the applicant(s) are citizen(s) of Nigeria (international passport or National ID card will suffice here);
(f) Evidence that the applicant or in the case of a joint application, both of the applicants have been resident in the FCT, for at least five years and the child is also resident in the territory. (This requirement is not necessary if the adoption application is made in a state other than the FCT;
(i) Evidence that the applicant is married, and written consent of the other spouse;
(j) Where the applicant is unmarried, evidence that he has attained the age of thirty five years and the child to be is of the same sex with him;
(k) Evidence of means by which the applicant will maintain the child.
It should be pointed out that the court has the authority to revoke an adoption order in respect of a child and take necessary action where it is proved that; (a) The adoptive parent has abandoned or neglected the child or (b) Persistently ill-treat or assault the child. So where any of the above takes place, the court will revoke the adoption order and struck off the order from the adopted children registrar- order 26(6) of the Act.
Samuel Okolie is a lagos-based legal practitioner. He can be reached with the following contacts: 08066756987; samuelokolie@