According to Black’s Law Dictionary, 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”. Adoption, simply put, is the act of one who takes another’s child into his own family treating him or her as his own family and giving him or her all the rights and duties of his own child[1]. It is an order vesting the parental rights and duties relating to a child in the adopters, made on their application by the appropriate court.

Under the 1989 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, adoption is recognised  as one of the forms of alternative care for children who are unable to remain in the family environment.[2] It is important in a society because it touches on status and affects the rights and obligations of an adopted person.

Who May Adopt?

The provisions of the Child Rights Act 2003, which is the principal legislation regulating adoption in Nigeria, sets out the required qualifications a person must fulfil to be eligible to adopt a child. It states that the applicant must not be less than 25 years of age and must be at least 21 years older than the child to be adopted[3].

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[4]. The Act went further to provide that the applicant should be a person of unquestionable integrity[5]. In addition to these and most importantly, the applicant must have the necessary financial capacity 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, for instance, 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 17. The Adoption Law of Lagos state applies to adoption of certain juveniles under the age of 17 years, who  are abandoned , or whose parents cannot be traced after due enquiry certified by a juvenile court.

Procedure for Adoption

The Child Rights Act provides that “an application for adoption shall be made to the court as prescribed in Form 3 and shall be accompanied with the relevant documents[6]”. Once the Ministry is satisfied with the application and the relevant documents, it will send all the relevant documents to the court either the State High Court or Magistrate Court and the court may decide whether to hear the application in open court or in chambers[7].

 The court, having been satisfied with the application and the relevant documents, then 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 or child development 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 the assignment to go and investigate the character and suitability of the applicant as an adopter as well as the child to be adopted[8].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 Court questions the prospective adoptive parents and grants the adoption order giving legal custody to the adoptive parents.

 Prospective adoptive parents must inform the social welfare officer of their intention to adopt at least three months before the court order is made. For at least three consecutive months immediately preceding an adoption order, the child must have been in the physical care and legal custody of the applicant parents in Nigeria.

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 are capable of looking after him or her. In such a case, the social welfare officer reports in writing a positive recommendation to the court. The court then meets the adoptive parents in court to confirm their suitability and  approves or denies the adoption order.

Documents Required:

Some of the documents required during the adoption process are as follows:

  • Birth certificate: Birth certificate or sworn declaration of age of the applicant or each of the applicants as the case may be.
  • Marriage certificate :Where the applicant is a married couple, their marriage certificate or sworn declaration of marriage.
  • Written Consent of Spouse when applicant is married.
  • Two passport photographs of the applicants or each of the applicant as the case may be.
  • A medical certificate of fitness of the applicant or each of the applicants from a government hospital.
  • Evidence that the applicant(s) are citizen(s) of Nigeria (international passport or National ID card will suffice).
  • Evidence of means by which the applicant will maintain the child.

In conclusion, it should  be pointed out that although adoption is a sealed and irrevocable act, the court has the authority to revoke an adoption order in respect of a child and take necessary action where it is proved that:

(a) The adoptive parent has abandoned or neglected the child or

(b) Persistently ill-treats or assaults the child. Where any of these takes place, the court will revoke the adoption order and strike off the order from the register of adopted children.[9]

NOTE: Read about the differences between Adoption and Legal Guardianship HERE

Questions relating to the topic discussed above should be sent to Sophia via Whatsapp to 09090041104 or via email: sophia.kolawole@harlemsolicitors.com

FOOTNOTES:                                                                                              

[1] dailypost.ng/2018/12/10/samuel-okolie-child-adoption-process-nigeria/ assessed 18/03/19

[2] Article 20 (1) & (2); S. 27 (2)(a) of the Children and Young Persons Law, Cap. C10 Laws of Lagos State 2003

[3] Order 26(1)(h) Child Rights Act

[4] Order 26(1)(j) Child Rights Act

[5] Order 26 (1) (g) Child Rights Act

[6] Order 26(1) Child Rights Act

[7] Order 26(2) Child Rights Act

[8]Order 26(3) Child Rights Act

[9] Order 26(6) Child Rights Act

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