The process of adopting a child in Nigeria is governed by the Child Rights Act and the Child Rights Law of the various states of the federation. In addition, there is also the Adoption Law of various states which contain provisions on the adoption of a child legally in each state.
The process of adopting a child can be rigorous as a lot of paperwork is usually involved. It is also time-consuming and there are laid down rules and procedures to be followed to ensure due compliance with the relevant laws. Failure to follow the laid down rules can be deemed as kidnapping.
Who May Adopt a Child
The Child Rights Act and the Child Rights Law of Lagos State contain provisions for persons who can legally adopt a child in Nigeria.
The following persons may adopt a child in Nigeria:
- A married couple, where each of them has attained the age of twenty‐five years, and there is an order authorizing them jointly to adopt a child
- A married person; if he/she has obtained the consent of his spouse, as required under section 132 of the Child Rights Act (if a married person is a sole applicant, the court, if it deems fit, requires consent from the other spouse)
- A single person; if he/she has attained the age of thirty‐five years. However, the applicant must be the same sex as the child sought to be adopted.[i] It is pertinent to note that in Lagos State, the single person need not be the same sex as the child sought to be adopted.[ii]
Importantly, in all cases specified above, the adopter or adopters shall be persons found to be suitable to adopt the child in question by the appropriate investigating officers.[iii]
Who May be Adopted
Only a child can be adopted under the Child Rights Act and Child Rights laws of various states.
A child is defined under the Child Rights Act 2003 as a person under the age of 18 (eighteen) years.[iv]
Section 128 of the Child Rights Act provides that the Court shall not make an adoption order in respect of a child unless;
a) The parents of the child or, where there is no surviving parent, the guardian of the child consents to the adoption; or
b) The child is abandoned, neglected or persistently abused, or ill-treated, and there are compelling reasons in the interest of the child why he should be adopted.[v]
Process of Adopting a Child
- Request to the appropriate adoption agency: Each state in Nigeria has an adoption unit/ welfare agency responsible for the process of adoption.[vi] In Lagos State, for instance, there is an adoption unit responsible for adoption services under the Ministry of Youth and Social Development. The applicant must submit a formal request to the welfare agency in the state.
- Interview Process: Before the request for adoption is granted, the applicant has to go through a series of interviews/counseling sessions granted by the state adoption unit/welfare agency to determine the suitability of the prospective adopter/adapters.
- Upon the completion of the period of three months, the applicant files an application for adoption of the child. The necessary forms and documents must be filled and filed at the court as part of the adoption process. The documents to be filed include:
- Where the applicant is a married couple; their marriage certificate or a sworn declaration of marriage is required.
- The birth certificate or sworn declaration of the age of each applicant
- Two passport photographs of each applicant
- A medical certificate of the fitness of the applicant from a Government hospital; and
- Such other documents, requirements, and information as the Court may require for the purposes of the adoption.[vii]
- The court then orders an investigation to be conducted by a Child Development Officer, a Social Welfare Officer, a supervision officer, and such other persons as the Court may determine, to enable the Court to assess the suitability of the applicant as an adopter and of the child to be adopted. [viii]
- The court in reaching a decision relating to the adoption of the child must have regard to all circumstances including;
- The need to safeguard and promote the welfare and the best interest of the child throughout childhood of that child; and
- Ascertaining, as far as practicable, the wishes and feelings of the child regarding the decision and giving due consideration to those wishes and feelings, having regard to the age and understanding of the child.
- Once the court is satisfied with the suitability of the applicant, then the child is allowed to live with the applicant for a period of three months before an adoption order can be made by the court.[ix] This is done to determine the compatibility of the child and the applicant.
Restrictions on the Adoption of a Child
The following are restrictions to be noted in respect of the adoption of a child;
- The applicant or, in the case of a joint application, 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 a joint application, 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.[x]
It is pertinent to note that in the Child Rights Law of Lagos State, the only restrictions are;
- The applicant or in the case of joint applicants, one of them is fit and proper and not less than twenty-five years old and
- The applicant has at least twelve months before the granting of the order, informed the social welfare officer of his intention to adopt the child. [xi]
Further, both the Child Rights Act and the Child Rights Law of Lagos State provide that on the application of a married couple, if they consist of a parent and a step-parent of the child, the Court will dismiss the application if it considers that the matter would be better dealt with under possession and custody of children.[xii]
Adopting a child can be rigorous without the right guidance. Thus, it is better to contact a lawyer experienced in child adoption to make the filing and documentation of the appropriate processes easier and faster. Also, adoption laws in each state differ and the help of an experienced lawyer is needed to determine the applicable laws. Also, it is better to adopt a child legally by following due process of the law. Any other method, without following due process will be deemed as kidnapping.
[i] See section 129, Child Rights Act 2003
[ii] Section 119 (c) Child Rights Law of Lagos State
[iv] Section 277, Child Rights Act 2003. A child is also defined as a person under the age of 18 years under section 261 of the Child Rights Law of Lagos State, 2007.
[v] See also section 118 of the Child Rights Law of Lagos State.
[vi] See section 125, Child Rights Act 2003; section 115, Child Rights Law of Lagos State.
[vii] Section 126(1), Child Rights Act 2003; section 116(1) Child Rights Law of Lagos State.
[viii] Section 126(2), Child Rights Act 2003; section 116(2) Child Rights Law of Lagos State.
[ix] Section 131(e) Child Rights Law of Lagos State
[x] Section 131(1), Child Rights Act 2003
[xi] Section 121(1), Child Rights Law of Lagos State.
[xii] Section 131(2), Child Rights Act 2003, section 121(2), Child Rights Law of Lagos State.
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