By Amaka Ezeno, MCLArb
Adoption is when an adult legally assumes the role of a parent for a child. In effect, where the required procedure is not followed, it may amount to kidnapping. The commonest reasons for adoption include when the child’s birth parents are unable or unwilling to care for the child; when the parents are deceased, or when a couple are medically unable to have children. Adoption is regulated by the Child’s Rights Act of 2003 and the Child’s Rights Law of various states of the federation. The Ministry of Youth and Social Development is the agency overseeing adoption procedure in Nigeria.
WHO MAY ADOPT A CHILD?
According to the Child’s Rights Act, the following persons who must be found suitable to adopt may adopt a child:
- A married couple, where each of them has attained the age of twenty-five years, and there is an order/approval authorizing them to adopt a child.
- A married person if s/he has obtained the consent of his spouse.
- A single person if s/he has attained the age of thirty-five years. However, the applicant must be the same sex as the child sought to be adopted. The same-sex requirement for adoption is not applicable in Lagos State.
WHO MAY BE ADOPTED?
According to our law, only a child can be adopted, and a child is a person under the age of eighteen years. Accordingly, a court shall not make an order for adoption, unless the parents of the child or, where there is no surviving parent, the guardian of the child consents to the adoption; or the child is abandoned, neglected or persistently abused, or ill-treated, and there are compelling reasons in the interest of the child why they should be adopted.
RESTRICTION ON THE ADOPTION OF A CHILD
- The applicant or, in the case of a joint applicant, one of the applicants is not less than twenty-five years old and must be at least, twenty-one years older than the child.
- The applicant, or in the case of a joint application, both or, at least, one of them and the child are residents in the same state.
- The applicant has been resident or, in the case of joint applicant, both of them have been resident in the state in which the application is made for a period of at least, five years.
- The applicant is a citizen or, in the case of a joint application, both applicants are citizens of Nigeria.
- The child has been in the care of the applicant for a period of at least three consecutive months immediately preceding the date on which the order is made and the applicant has, at least twelve months before the making of the order, informed the social welfare officer of his intention to adopt the child.
THE PROCESS OF ADOPTING A CHILD
- A formal request made to the appropriate adoption agency of the state, usually a unit in the Ministry of Youth and Social Development.
- The agency interviews and counsels the applicant to determine their suitability.
- After three months, the applicant will file a formal application for adoption of the child. The necessary forms and documents must be filled and filed at the court. These documents include:
- A marriage certificate where the applicant is a married.
- The birth certificate.
- Passport photograph.
- A medical certificate of fitness, and any other documents that may be required by the agency.
The concluding part involves the court ordering an investigation to enable the court to assess the suitability of the applicant as an adopter and of the child to be adopted. In reaching its decision, the court has regards to all circumstances all in the best interest of the child, including safeguarding his or her welfare and ascertain as far as practicable, the wishes and feelings of the child regarding the decision to adopt them.
Once this is completed, the court makes an order nisi which allows the child to live with the adopter for an initial period of three months. This is done to determine the compatibility of the child and the applicant. After three months, an adoption order absolute is made by the court. The legal effect of adoption is to severed every rights and duties between or over the child and the birth parents, and vests same on the adopter. Adoption laws differ according to state, thus the service of a lawyer is required to determine the applicable laws.