Reports indicated that the state government halted the adoption of an abandoned baby by a United States-based couple. What is the true story of the botched adoption?
Actually, due process was not followed in the attempted adoption. Kaduna state has its laws and policies and if these are not followed, there is no way a child will be adopted, let alone leave the shores of Nigeria. We are following up on the case. It is only government that has the responsibility of giving out a child for adoption. Any child that is abandoned or is in the orphanage, the child belongs to the government of the state. But the most unfortunate thing is that people take it upon themselves to do what they want to do and think that because a child is abandoned, they can take it and give to anybody that they want to give. So, on this particular child, we have stepped in when we heard about it. We contacted those people who gave the child out for ‘adoption’. We have already taken that child back and he is with us as I’m talking with you now.
Is it true that when the fellow picked the abandoned child, she took him to the police station and the police gave her custody of the child?
Well, I don’t believe what she said because I can show you evidence; there are so many letters from the police and other security agencies about how they used to handle these cases. If a report is made to them, that child will be accompanied by a police officer with a letter, to the ministry. We work hand-in-hand. Even this child that we are talking about, I have a letter from the police station, saying that they have handed that child to us. We also have our social workers in all the 23 local governments, so anywhere an abandoned child is found, the contact of that social welfare officer is there with the police. They normally call, so that our staff can go and collect that child. But even if the social worker collects that child, he or she will be accompanied by a police officer.
So, we don’t know how the lady from Northern Hibiscus took that child and gave the couple for adoption; this is what we are trying to investigate now. The lady doesn’t even live in Kaduna, she lives in Abuja. So, how can someone who lives in Abuja take a child from Kaduna simply because someone told her? She is a blogger who dished out information about the child and this US-based couple approached her and she gave out the child for adoption! Just like that! What we expected from the Northern Hibiscus lady is for her to contact the authorities. That is why the ministry is here. All states of the federation have a Ministry of Women Affairs. She didn’t do that, she just put the baby on her blog and a family from the United States, according to her, contacted her without following due process. Is she an authority unto herself? That is why when we saw the story trending on social media, we followed it up and collected the baby.
What is the due process that should be followed, if someone wants to adopt a child in Kaduna state?
We have been saying it and I’m going to repeat it. If a child is picked from the streets, the first thing is to report to the police or Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps. The police or security agencies will investigate the area where that child is found and the person who found the child will write a statement. So, the police will then get in touch either with the social worker or the ministry. Once there is that communication, the child will be accompanied by both our social worker and the police officer and hand the child to the ministry, with a letter saying where the child was found and who found him or her. The ministry will now take that child to the hospital immediately, to ensure his or her health is in good condition and will be administered the first immunization, which is VCG. Afterwards, we will bring the child to the orphanage.
So, if someone wants to adopt, he or she will come to the ministry. He will pay a token fee of N25,000 to a bank account and collect a form and fill in the necessary details and submit to the ministry. We have an Adoption Committee, that has been approved by the State Executive Council. So, the person who wants to adopt will be screened by the committee. And once the committee finds the person eligible, it will make a recommendation. The committee will make a list of all those that passed its screening and even those that didn’t scale through. Then, it is left to the commissioner to now approve. If the list is approved, we will now invite the couple and the social worker in charge of the orphanage will take the child to the office of the commissioner. We will give them a certificate where they will fill the name that the family wants the child to bear. Afterwards, we will take the certificate to court to follow due legal process. Once we finish from the court, we will give the certificate to the couple. So, that means that the government knows where that child is and we are sure of his or her welfare and protection against any type of abuse or discrimination. We also have the powers to be checking the family periodically, to see to the welfare of the child. This adoption procedure is not just peculiar to government orphanages but it covers even privately owned ones. So, this is the process of adoption in Kaduna state.
So, can this US-based couple still be given the child for adoption if they follow this due process that you have just enumerated?
Because of this matter has been so much publicized and has attracted so much attention, we invited the family of the Us-based couple that are in Nigeria. We sat with them and told them where they erred. We told them that if they want to adopt the child, they should follow due process. I’m assuring you that if they are eligible, they will be considered. But we told them that we are not comfortable for the child to leave the soil of Kaduna state and go abroad without following the proper adoption procedure. The adopting couple knows that the adoption process in Western countries is not as easy as it is here in Nigeria. So, our adoption process is not as difficult as people think. We want adoption to be as transparent as possible, taking into consideration, the welfare and the health of the child. The couple has the right to re-apply, which they have done. They will go through screening by the Adoption Committee. If the committee recommends, then we can approve.
Is there a law regulating how orphanages can be set up in Kaduna state?
Apart from the Child Welfare and Protection Law, we have the Orphanage Regulation Law, which the present administration has developed. Before, they operated anyhow, and any person can just wake up and open an orphanage. At that time, they were centres of either child trafficking or the children became a source of income for the people who were running them. It became a business; people donated food items and money and some of these families that ran the orphanages took advantage of these unfortunate children and used the money to empower and train their own children. That was why a lot of these private orphanages allowed these children to grow, which is actually against the law. You cannot allow children to grow up in an orphanage; children need a family, they need love and they need that care and integration into the society.
So, we now have the names and addresses of all our private orphanages and we also monitor how they operate. We also encourage prospective adopters to check our private orphanages and see if they can identify a child that they want to adopt. If they are interested, there is no way any private orphanage can stop a child to be adopted, so long as they follow due process through the ministry. There is a representative of operators of the Association of Private orphanages in the Adoption Committee. We pass all government directives to the private orphanages through the representative of that association, who happens to be the chairman.
Recently, Unique Orphanage which is owned by one lady called Madam Eunice, has been involved in child trafficking. She has been found wanting, she bought a child. Last year, she bought a child which she also gave out. That child was recovered by the police in Enugu and he was taken from Kaduna state. The child was brought to us. And there is a court case on the issue. That child was with us until about a month or two ago, when there was a court order, saying that the child should be taken to the family. But she is also being investigated by NAPTIP because she was involved in child trafficking. In fact, the EFCC is in the picture and so we are saying that she cannot continue to operate in Kaduna. She has been identified with child trafficking, we have raided the orphanage and after due investigation, we returned the children back to their parents.
Are you thinking of prosecuting this lady of Northern Hibiscus who facilitated the recent botched child adoption?
Absolutely! From her submission, we have found out that she has given out so many children. We want to know how many they are? Who she has given out these children to? We want to know the criteria that she followed. She even told BBC that she also has two orphans in her custody, which she is taking care of. Where did she get them? Who gave them to her? Did she follow due process? We will like to know answers to these questions that is why she will be prosecuted.
Although she has apologized, we will still go ahead with our case. That’s not the right way to apologise; what she should have done is to have come to the ministry and write a letter of apology not to just apologise on social media. We will still proceed against her because she is not the only one involved and we will prosecute her to serve as a deterrent to others.
-The Ministry of Human Services and Social Development is solely responsible for giving out children for adoption, whether in private or government-owned orphanages;
-A couple wishing to adopt a baby will pay a token fee of N25,000 into a bank account and collect a form and fill the necessary details and submit to the ministry;
-An Adoption Committee, which has been approved by the State Executive Council, will screen the couple and make recommendations;
-The committee will make a list of all those that passed its screening and even those that didn’t scale through the process;
-The commissioner will grant approval to those that passed the screening;
-The couple(s) and the social worker in charge of the orphanage will give them a certificate, to fill out the name that they want the child to bear;
- The certificate will be taken to court so that all the legal due process will be finalized and afterwards, it will be handed over to the couple;
-The ministry also has the powers to be checking the family periodically, to see to the welfare of the child.