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Narrow and tortuous road to child adoption

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Nine years after a colourful marriage ceremony, which she described as her “dream wedding,” Mrs. Uzodima N. O. did all that was humanly possible for her to bear biological children, but all to no avail.

Trips to government and private hospitals, as well as, sundry medical facilities were plenty, and they equally cost a lot of money too. Visits to religious houses, where several spiritual exercises were carried out also did not bear expected fruits

Curiously, in all the diagnoses from the medical facilities, no major medical reason was given for her inability to conceive naturally. With this clean bill of health, she and her partner continued to try conception the natural way.

By the tenth year, family members had become quite impatient.

In their 11th year of marriage, Mrs. Uzodima and her hubby decided to switch gears and consider In vitro fertilisation (IVF). At this time, she was 44 years old. At a reputable fertility clinic in Lagos State, and at a time when these facilities were few and far between, she was told that at 44, her chances were few.

However, after the IVF failed twice and all the money went down the drain, the couple had to settle for adoption.

“In fact, our sadness deepened when adoption also came with its problems. The process of adoption in this country is not only sloppy, but it is also unnecessarily complicated and so many obstacles are erected on the way, by those that are cashing on the infertility epidemic to make money at all cost from couples that are itching to play parents,” she said.

Continuing, she said: “It is interesting to note that genuine, prospective adoptive parents find it reasonably difficult to go through the process of child adoption, while those whose reason are far from altruistic don’t seem to be exposed to the generally believed cumbersome adoption process.”

Uzodima is not the only one that thinks that the process of child adoption is simply complex and needs to be looked at again. Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo equally thinks so.

While speaking at the second annual conference of Heritage Adoption Support and Advocacy Group (HASAAG) in Lagos, an event that was staged to mark the 2018 World Adoption Day, Osinbajo called for the simplification of the adoption process.

According to him: “Our duty as concerned persons is to make the process of adoption easier. There is also the need to educate and sensitise those around us on adoption.

“I have practically been to every state in Nigeria and what you find is sheer number of little children that wander all over the place without being catered for. It is a paradox not to find children to adopt when there are so many children all over the place in need of love and care,” the vice president said adding, “what is missing is that we need men and women who are committed or vehement in their advocacy on adoption. We don’t have enough of such people who can lobby the legislature. Someone sent a message to me about famous people that were adopted and I found it fascinating that Nelson Mandela, Bill Gates, Malcolm X were all adopted. It struck me then that adoption is in God’s plan.”

Billionaire businesswoman, Mrs. Folorunsho Alakija, who said seamless was long overdue in the country, regretted that, “it has so far been like a taboo or stigma if you adopt, and people shy away from it. But it is something that should be encouraged.”

She stressed the need for efforts to be made to disabuse the minds of those who still think that child adoption was a taboo, saying the “campaign for child adoption is long overdue; we need to sensitise the people and let them be aware that adopting a child is not a taboo.”

Infertility is a growing concern in the country, and data reveals that about 25 percent of a married couple are burdened by infertility issues, while there is also a 40 percent increase in cases of male infertility. This development makes IVF and child adoption (which is now a growing culture) an option for affected couples to explore.

In the last two decades or thereabouts, adoption has been gaining grounds in the country with many interested families quietly applying for children and even spending years on the waiting list.

Adoption is a process whereby a person assumes the responsibility of parenting his/her non-biological child. According to Black’s law dictionary, it 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.”

Put differently, it is the act of someone taking another’s child into his own family, treating him/her as his/her biological child, while also giving the adopted child all the rights and duties given to his/her biological children.

Two laws regulate the practice of adoption in the country, that is the Child Rights Act 2003, and the adoption laws of individual states. The latter was actually harmonised after the enactment of the Child’s Right Act.

In the 1989 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, adoption is recognised as a form of alternative care for children, who are unable to remain in their family environment. Consequently, adoption serves as a means of prevention of child abuse, curbs child trafficking, and enables adopted children to have access to good education, while preventing them from being placed in institutions like orphanages.

But despite all these laws, and the presence of approximately 17.5 million orphaned and vulnerable children in the country, the process is still being dogged by a number of challenges, thereby forcing those that feel the need to adopt children to think twice before embarking on the process or discard the idea outright.

For instance, apart from persons willing to adopt children being encumbered by the slow and complex adoption process, post-adoption monitoring and evaluation have increasingly been lax.

In cases, where the adoption process sailed through successfully, reports abound that concerned authorities shirk their responsibilities in following up and monitoring adoptions until an adopted child comes of age.

While certain cultures and traditions still see child adoption as a taboo, social stigmatisation, lack of biological/genetic linkage with the child, and future claim by biological parents are some factors that stall interest in child adoption.

Also, in parts of the country, there is a slight preponderance in the preference for the adoption of male babies because they (male babies) are more valued in terms of family name propagation, as well as, family inheritance.

Also hobbling adoption process in the country is the circumvention of pre-adoption medical examinations/screening of both the adopter and the adoptee. This ugly development has led to a situation where some potential adopters patronise charlatans like middlemen and some private hospitals, a decision, which comes with serious disadvantages.

ORPHANAGE homes are also accused of trading children to the highest bidder who is not necessarily capable of handling the adopted children in place of capable and qualified applicants.

But the National Secretary, Association of Orphanages And Homes Operators in Nigeria (ASOHON), Reverend Mr Gabriel Oyediji, argues that there is a disequilibrium between supply level, the number of children available for adoption and availability of adopting parents. “This is so because people looking for children to adopt far outnumber available children. There is almost an established case of growth in the rate of infertility in the country. The high failure rate of IVF is another problem that is now making people resort to adoption. Some people have done IVF three to four times without success. So, they opt for adoption, which now leads us to the scarcity of adoptable children and this calls for concern.”

The ASOHON chief, who said there were no alternatives to adoption in the country, added that “in developed countries, they have alternatives like surrogate and fertility clinics, where people can get things done legally. It is, however, a paradox that a country where we have more than two thousand children being aborted daily, is also the same country where we have an average of 4, 000 families needing adoption monthly. As a country, we should explore ways of minimising abortion, which is carried out in private clinics and has been a source of revenue for them. If this happens, we would have more children available for adoption.

“I have been canvassing for the creation of unwanted pregnancy department in all levels of government, where those that are carrying unwanted pregnancy would be advised, counselled and given the right orientation.

Instead of throwing babies into the gutters where they would not survive, or dumping them in refuse bins, unprepared mothers should be made to release these children for adoption. The survival of the child is paramount. Every child has the right to survive and the government must pursue that right to survive so that their right to life is not trampled upon.”

In order to ease the pressure on couples that desire to enjoy family lives by raising children, Oyediji said the government should establish and fund fertility clinics so that such services would be available to the poor majority. “Eighty percent of fertility clinics are not affordable to the average income earner, not to talk of low-income earners. So, the government should make funding available to fertility clinics with options like sperm banks and egg banks. If we can achieve this, the issue of illegal adoption/orphanages or baby factories will be reduced because anything that is scarce, people look for it anyhow. The reason why people are patronising illegal adoption or rogue orphanages is that there is no affordable alternative.”

On complaints by some potential adopters that children were not promptly released by orphanages, Oyediji offered reasons why there appears to be some delay: “When the Child Rights Law was put in place, Lagos State, in particular, made it very easy to release a child for adoption. But the child has to go through some legal processes/investigation, and nothing is fast in Nigerian courts. Each child in a registered orphanage has a record and picture in a family court, and investigations carried out involved the magistrate, social worker, and ministry officials. It’s a triangulated system and if one triangle breaks, it will truncate the process. When the system is truncated, children are made to stay longer in orphanages. No child can be released without an order from the court. In fact, 80 percent of children in orphanages appear before the magistrate almost every month to review their cases. We can’t run in conflict with the government and the law. Some children age out in the orphanages because of delay in court processes.”

On what the association is doing to make adoption easy for those who want to adopt, he said: “In this day of charity fatigue, there is no reason to keep a lot of children in orphanages because of lack of sufficient funds to take care of them. Orphanages single-handedly take care of their feeding, school fees, clothes and medicals without grants from the government. No orphanage in Nigeria today boasts of regular or occasional grants. So, we run expenses on our own. So, the government should restructure the release process so that the children can leave the orphanages faster and with ease…We urge the government to support orphanages in the country because we don’t have sufficient funds to cater for the children.”

Explaining the process of adoption, a child rights lawyer, Mr. Taiwo Akinlami, said that adoption matters are handled as spelled out in the Child Rights Act, which has today been domesticated in 24 states. In Lagos State, for instance, the ministry in charge of adoption is the Ministry of Youths And Social Development. The process involves the would-be adopter approaching the ministry and informing it of his/her desire to adopt a child. This is followed up with a letter and some interview sessions. If you are considered as someone capable of adopting a child or eligible under the law, then you are taken through a particular session, which lasts for nine months, after which you are allowed the latitude to look for adoptable children in an orphanage. That is followed by the court processes. Finally, the would-be adopter gets a court order on the child he/she intends to adopt and that settles it.

“It is important to state that an adopted child is a bona fide child, just like a biological child; an adopted child can inherit and has everything a biological child has, and so everything must be done in the best interest of the child. The government must supervise these children to ensure that they are properly treated. If a parent is found to be irresponsible or guilty of treating a child in a bad manner by the court, or if the life of the child is threatened in any way, then the government should take custody of the child, and cause the parent to face the wrath of the law.”

He praised Lagos State for being very thorough in the adoption processes and steps taken to ensure the safety of adopted children. “For a married couple, Lagos State looks at where adopters live, their sources of livelihood to ascertain if they can actually take care of the child. A single man or woman can adopt a child, but the law will scrutinise them to ascertain the kind of relationship that they crave, ascertain that they have the capacity to take responsibility, and in a good place to take care of the child. Children that are adoptable are children whose parents cannot be found, or families cannot be traced. The processes are there and not as difficult as portrayed in some cases.

“What looks like a problem that I have discovered is that many people that have been issued letters (after going through the nine-month process) don’t find children that they want to adopt, and that is very frustrating because the letter lasts for only one year after which they have to be renewed until the search is successful. The mere fact that a child is in an orphanage does not mean the child is adoptable because there are processes that must be followed properly.

“So, to ensure that adopted children are not subjugated, everybody in the society must be their brother’s keeper; be on the look out for suspicious characters and report them to appropriate quarters. In Lagos State, there is mandatory reporting, which means that if you are aware that a child whether adopted or not is being abused, it is your responsibility to report the matter. As a matter of fact, in Lagos State, if you are tried by a proper court and found to be guilty of not reporting someone who abused a child, you will be sentenced to two years imprisonment. Some people differentiate their biological children from their adopted children, but I say to such people that there is no need for creating such dichotomy as in the face of the law, they are all your children.”


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