By Ngozi Nwoke

Mrs. Rita Akubundu parted ways with her former husband due to her inability to conceive. She has a touching story about her efforts to adopt a child.

For 15 years, she was married to her former husband after a lavish wedding that she considered to be her dream come true. She said: “We did what we could do within our ability to conceive biological children. Unfortunately, that did not happen.”

 She told Daily Sun that after all the efforts she made, money spent in hospitals for medications, religious houses she visited, as well as several spiritual exercises that were performed on her by spiritualists, she was still unable to conceive.

“What was baffling,” she told Daily Sun, “was that I was told that there was nothing medically wrong with me and my ex-husband. So, we chose to try IVF but it failed, twice.”

By the time the second in-vitro fertilization failed, she had turned 40 years old. In her desperation, she was told that, at 40, her chances to have a successful IVF were slim. After what seemed to be several unsuccessful attempts, she settled for adoption. 

“It was at that point that my marriage crashed, but I was determined to continue the adoption process.

“I went to three orphanages in Lagos, where I was asked to pay an outrageous fee of N1 million for a baby girl of nine months and N2 million for a baby boy of one year. Till date, I haven’t been able to adopt a child for three years due to the unaffordable fee.” 

Considering the benefits of adoption to the adopted child/children and adopters, adoption serves as an alternative care for children who are unable to identify with their biological parents. Adoption could also prevent children from suffering abuse, child trafficking and enable the adopted children to have a sense of belonging in the society, access to good education and good upbringing, while preventing them from being displaced.

Reports have it that orphanages trade children to the highest bidder, who is not necessarily capable of handling the adopted children in place of capable and qualified applicants. Many interested families quietly apply for children and even spend years on the waiting list.

Most people do not opt for the option of adoption from most orphanages anymore due to the level of extortion and exorbitant fees they are charged to adopt a child. While many children are guaranteed a bright future, the future of these underprivileged children is filled with uncertainties for many of them, except luck intervenes in their case.

To buttress this, founder of Little Saints Orphanage, Lagos, Mrs. Dele George, in a phone interview, said the orphanage, which was founded on June 4, 1994, was the first non-governmental indigenous orphanage approved by the Lagos State government in Nigeria and has adhered strictly to the policy and practice of the government in its operations over the years.

George said: “The orphanage has in the past 25 years rehabilitated, reformed and re-integrated children who have had to overcome traumatic experiences such as abandonment, rejection, abuse and even modern-day slavery.

“Being the first private orphanage to be registered by the Lagos State government in 1994, Little Saints Orphanage has blazed the trail of institutional care of vulnerable children. With an outstanding network of support, excellent facilities, a dynamic team of social workers and caregivers, the orphanage has raised hundreds of children who have been able to overcome their negative childhood experiences and blossomed into young adults ready to make their mark in the world.

“We can also boast of having the highest number of children to be adopted by any orphanage. The orphanage works in collaboration with the Ministry of Youth and Social Development in Lagos State, and the Ministry of Women Affairs in other states of operation on issues of adoption, care and protection. We have received numerous awards for our demonstration of excellence in charity and child welfare. The orphanage currently operates in four states of the country and is a member of the Association of Orphanages and Homes Operators in Nigeria (ASOHON).

“So, with all that we have achieved and accomplished due to our relentless hard work and commitment, you will agree with me that it won’t be difficult for us to abide by the government’s policy and code of conduct. When people come here to enquire about our process of adoption, they complain that the process is too stiff and difficult, but that is not the case. The truth is that they expect you to do their bidding and neglect the guidelines of the Child Adoption Act, which we are obligated to.”

Despite all these laws, intending adopters are still being saddled with a number of challenges, thereby discouraging those that have the need to adopt children from embarking on the process or discarding the idea outright.

Shedding a lighter note on the procedure for child adoption, Lagos-based legal practitioner, Anthony Uwom, said that adoption matters are clearly stated out in the Child Rights Act, which in most cases are not being adhered to by orphanage operators today.

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He said: “In Lagos State, for instance, the ministry in charge of adoption is the Ministry of Youth 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.”

 Lagos State Commissioner for Youth and Social Development, Mr. Olusegun Dawodu, stated that the ministry has the responsibility to provide a safe haven for children who are orphaned, abused or rejected in the society.

He added that, in line with the mandate of the Adoption and Fostering Unit, he will ensure that the ministry does not fall short of public expectations.

He said: “With the rise in cases of infertility and the attendant increase in the number of people who apply for adoption, it has been a very viable option through which many families have been given the opportunity to have a child they can call their own. Adoption offers many vulnerable children the opportunity to grow in a safe, conducive and decent family environment. Orphans who are well catered for are doing well in their various callings across the world.”

Dawodu also disclosed that, as part of efforts to make the adoption process transparent, innovative approaches to tackle challenges are being reviewed, adding that provisions of the Child Right Law 2015 (Sections 119 & 119), which specify that the guideline must be met by both the prospective adopters and the child who may be adopted, must be strictly adhered to by orphanage operators and intending adopters.

“Providing adequate safety and protection for the children in orphanage homes is the sole responsibility of the ministry. That is why, in Lagos State, many strategies are employed to checkmate activities of the orphanages. We implore members of the public to take advantage of the new face of the adoption process in the state by offering to give hope and succour to children who by no fault of theirs are brought into this world.” 

But the president of the Association of Orphanages and Homes Operators in Nigeria, founder of Compassionate Orphanage, Mr. Gabriel Oyediji, argues that there is no synergy between the government and orphanages, as the government provides little or no support for the growth orphanages.

“First, I want to state emphatically that government does not charge exorbitant fees for child adoption from any government-approved orphanage. The government only demands N100,000 for administrative charges. Even orphanages do not charge fees and that is where the challenge lies. These homes spend money and resources to cater for the children up to the age where they are adopted and the government will refuse them from demanding a fee from the adopters. Yet, at the end of the adoption process, the government does not support the orphanage homes or the children in any way. The only challenge for the adopters is that they have to go through the process of coming for interview sessions with the ministry and the duration to wait. The claim that the government demands a high amount of money is absolutely false.”

In order to ease the pressure on couples that desire to enjoy family life 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 per cent 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 people are patronizing 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 appeared 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 involve the magistrate, social worker and ministry officials. It’s a triangulated system, and if one side of the 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 per cent 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 easier 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. 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.”

As many married couples worry about their inability to conceive, the burden has become worse for couples who are unable to bear children and also find it difficult to adopt children from orphanage homes due to the frustrating processes.

Only a few couples summon courage and energy to disclose their ordeal in the hands of orphanage operators when undergoing the adoption process, while most couples just endure the rigorous process and move on.

For decades, adoption has been one of the legitimate and acceptable alternatives to becoming a parent. The reasons why people opt for adoption vary. Some adopt because of the need to help the children feel the experience of family union, while some do so because of compassion and companionship. However, infertility, which is the major reason most couples opt for adoption, has been a disturbing concern in homes.

According to the Mediterranean Journal of Social Sciences, “child adoption, which could be a socially-responsive gesture or a solution for infertility, is gradually becoming culturally acceptable in Nigeria. The government must focus on reviewing policies and practices of child adoption in Nigeria and examine policies regulating adoption practices and explore knowledge and attitude towards child adoption, as well as socio-cultural issues in child adoption practices across Nigeria. Nigeria has a National Child Rights Act enacted in 2003 that seeks to regulate the welfare of childrenm, including child adoption practices.

“Despite this legislation, most Nigerians are only aware of the term “child adoption,” barely a few understand the concept of child adoption and the policy regulating it. More so, a large number of infertile couples are familiar with the term “child adoption,” but various social and cultural factors and misconceptions associated with adoption have impaired its full acceptability as a management option for infertility. Adequate support by the social welfare system, non-government organizations and health practitioners involved in infertility management will ease pre-existing fears and socio-cultural misconceptions and allow for improved child adoption practices. Data has shown that about 25 per cent of married couples are burdened by infertility issues, while there is also a 40 per cent 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.”