Who can adopt a Child in Nigeria?
Both single individuals and married couples may adopt. Note that a single person will not be allowed to adopt a child of the opposite sex except in extraordinary circumstances. In most states, married couples must adopt jointly. If married, both members of the couple must be Nigerian citizens.
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”.
It is also an order vesting the parental rights and duties relating to a child in the adopters, made on their application by an authorized court. This article examines the legal process of adopting a child in Nigeria.
The Child Rights Act 2003 (CRA) is the principal legislation regulating adoption in Nigeria, and it sets out the required qualifications a person must fulfil to be eligible to adopt a child.
Age – The CRA states that the applicant must not be less than 25 years of age and must be at least 21 years older than the child. Therefore, if you want to adopt a child who is 10 years old, you must be at least 31 years old.
Marital Status and Gender – 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. Under Nigerian law, cohabiting and same sex couples are not permitted by law to adopt children.
Character – The CRA provides that the applicant should be a person of unquestionable integrity
Finances – In addition to these and most importantly, the applicant must have the necessary financial capability and means to take adequate care of the child.
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 falls under the relevant age, depending on the State, the child may be adopted under the law.
Adoption Procedure in Nigeria
Depending on where the adoption takes place, the specific law and regulations governing the adoption may differ, for example adoptive parents must foster their children for at least three months in Lagos. This means that the prospective adoptive parents must have physical and temporary legal custody of the adoptive child for at least three consecutive months immediately prior to petitioning the court for an adoption decree.
For adoption to take place, the court (family Court where the child resides) is vested with powers to grant an adoption order depending on the type of adoption taking place.
Step 1 – Pre-approval from the State Welfare Agency
The first step is that the prospective adopters must make a formal request to the State government welfare agency – most times the Ministry of Youth and Social Development, requesting approval to start the adoption process. In reviewing this request, the prospective parents are interviewed by the Director of social welfare to determine whether the prospective adopters are suitable to adopt a child. This involves mandatory pre-counselling sessions, and other sessions to confirm suitability.
If approval is granted, the prospective adopters are then able to search for an adoptable child in a government approved home. The child is then allowed to stay with the prospective adopters for a period of three months.
Step 2 – Application to the Court
The laws in most parts of the country provide that an application for an adoption order must be made in the prescribed form and submitted to the registrar of the competent court. This application is accompanied with the relevant documents including (but not limited to) – the marriage certificate or a sworn declaration of marriage (where the applicant is a married couple), the birth certificate or sworn declaration of age of each applicant, passport photographs of each applicant, medical certificate of fitness of the applicant from a government hospital etc.
Step 3 – Court directed investigation by State Government welfare Agency
On receipt of the application, the court will give an order of investigation to be conducted by Social Welfare Officers, supervision officers, and any other persons as the Court may determine to assess the suitability of the applicant as an adopter and of the child to be adopted.
The court assigns a ‘guardian ad litem’ for the child to represent him/her in the adoption proceedings. The guardian ad litem is the social welfare officer in charge of the area where the juvenile resides, or a probation officer or some other person suitably qualified in the opinion of the court of assignment.
The guardian ad litem investigates the circumstances related to the proposed adoption and files a report to the court. The guardian ad litem represents the child’s interests until the magistrate questions the prospective adoptive parents and grants the adoption order giving legal custody to the adoptive parents.
Step 4 – Recommendation by Welfare Officer
The social welfare officer visits the home of the adoptive parents until the officer is satisfied that the juvenile is settled, and the prospective adoptive parents can look after him or her. Then, the social welfare officer submits a positive recommendation in writing to the court.
Step 5 – Court Order
The court will meet the adoptive parents in court to confirm their suitability and will issue or deny the adoption order.
The Court shall, in reaching a decision relating to the adoption of a child, have regard to all the circumstances, first consideration being given to the need to safeguard and promote the welfare and the best interest of the child throughout the 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.
Step 6 – Final Documentation
After the adoption order has been issued, adoptive parents should obtain a new birth certificate for the child listing them as the child’s parents. In some states, after the adoption has been granted, the adoptive parents must obtain the court’s permission to remove the child from Nigerian jurisdiction, either temporarily or permanently. In addition, the social welfare officer might be required to submit a letter to the Nigerian immigration office, stating that the adoptive parents are now the legal parents of the child. This letter permits the adopting parents to apply for a passport to take the child out of Nigeria.
Every action that occurred in an adoption proceeding and its final outcome must be entered into the Adoption Register. A certified copy of an entry in the Adopted Children’s Register if stamped or sealed by the registrar’s office shall be proof of such adoption as is specified therein.
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