On August 3, 1996 when many Nigerians, especially football fans were celebrating the under-23 football team for winning gold medal at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia, a middle-aged lawyer was in one of the city bars buying drinks for the jubilating folks to also celebrate his divorce.
The successful lawyer untied the nuptial knot after 10 years of childlessness, a situation he blamed on the bareness of his divorced wife. But that was shocking for some people who thought the enlightened lawyer should have gone for child adoption instead of divorce. But the lawyer’s relations, especially his mother would not listen to such advice, insisting that her son was ‘man enough’ to sire a child of his own and a heir.
About 20 years down the line, child adoption, hitherto looked at with disdain in society, is fast gaining ground.
Visits to some of the orphanages in Lagos reveal how trendy child adoption is becoming. Most of these orphanages, which used to appeal to Nigerians through the media to come forward to adopt a child, no longer do so because of the waiting list of couples interested in adopting babies.
The Ministry of Youth and Social Welfare across the states in the country, especially Lagos and Abuja now receive huge number of applications on a weekly basis without a corresponding availability of adoptable children.
The high demand has resulted in the proliferation of the baby factory business to feed mostly the illegal child adoption, which has become a big racket in Nigeria.
But a top ranking matron at a Lagos orphanage home, who prefers to be called Mama Hope, frowns at the bad image given to licensed and reputable orphanages in the country by the illegal adoption sponsors.
“We were set up in accordance with the law, we abide by the law, source our inmates from babies abandoned at birth, neglected and abandoned street children, from parents and relations who cannot take care of their children, formalise their stay with us, rehabilitate and train them”, she says.
She insists that anybody who wishes to adopt them must pass through the laws because “we have legalised their stay and are accountable to government for their daily affairs and wellbeing”.
Explaining the procedure for adoption, Samuel Okolie, a Lagos-based legal practitioner, says, “Order 26(1) of the Child Rights Act provide thus, that an application for adoption shall be made to the court as prescribed in form 3 and shall be accompanied with the relevant documents”.
However in practice, the lawyer says the application is not made directly to the court rather by way of a letter addressed to the Ministry of Youth and Social Development depending on the state, and accompanied with the relevant documents. “Once the ministry is satisfied with the application and the relevant document, the ministry will send all the relevant documents to the court, and the judge or magistrate depending on the case, may decide whether to hear the application in open court or in chambers- see order 26(2) of the Child Rights Act”.
“The court having been satisfied with the application and the relevant documents, will direct the welfare officer or child development officer to go and investigate the character and suitability of the applicant as an adopter as well as the child to be adopted. See order 26(3) of the Child Rights Act”.
Emeka Ndukuba, a lawyer and public affairs analyst, says that though orphanages woo people to adopt children, the whole process is cumbersome, hence many intending child adopters go for the easy way and even connive with some unscrupulous orphanage home operators.
“Once, I was handling a clients’ case, but abandoned it when I noticed double standard by the social welfare personnel. My clients, a couple, were in the final process of adopting two babies when social welfare declined that they have history of battering in their family. But a single lady scaled the hurdles with less stress meaning money exchanged hands”, the lawyer decries.
With the firming of the laws, especially the Child Rights Act, child adoption is no longer as easy as it used to be when orphanages were begging people to adopt children as the court now revokes adoption order when investigations prove that the child is not in good hands.
However, the seeming difficulty in the procedure coupled with the high demand has resulted in a booming child adoption racket within a short time.
In the last decade, over 20 baby factories have been uncovered and sealed by the Police across the country. The factories, which are mainly in hospitals and often run by doctors, host young girls between 14-17 years who are impregnated by hired young men. They young girls are paid off between N200,000 to N500,000 once they deliver their babies and these babies are in turn sold from N2 million to couples who want babies.
A case that shook Nigeria was on May 6, 2011, when the Aba Area Command of the Nigerian Police uncovered a baby factory at Cross Foundation Hospital in Aba where Dr. Orikara Hyacinth, the owner and operator, was arrested alongside 32 pregnant girls for using the hospital for baby factory business.
The intrigue is that some of these babies from the infamous factories find their way in some legal orphanage homes, while some from the orphanage homes make their way to the black market where people desperate of children pay dearly to get one, especially new born babies they can easily bond and acclimatise to.
With the uncovering of these baby factories, desperate couples are devising other means of getting babies cheaper. Some now convince innocent girls on the streets to live with them, have a baby and they send them overseas afterwards.
Others go in search of victims of rape, child abuse or breach of promise of marriage who are most vulnerable in their rejection by the society, harbor them until the babies are delivered, and then push them out, and probably relocate with the baby.
That was the method adopted in the selling of a new born baby on March 1, 2017 for N850,000 (though the mother was given mere N250,000) at a hospital in Ikota, Lekki, Lagos by a woman who took care of the baby’s mother during pregnancy. Sadly, while the couple who bought the baby and their collaborators were enjoying a big naming ceremony, the Police apprehended them and five other culprits who are still in detention.
The racket has even gone to another level. Some people adopt the babies legally here, and traffic them out of the country where they sell them to prearranged couples in hard currency.
Recently, an Abuja orphanage home, which suspected a highly placed woman’s involvement in child trafficking reported her to the police but the case did not continue as the owner of the orphanage was harassed severally for embarrassing the high society woman.
According to the proprietress of the orphanage, the woman had successfully adopted two children from the orphanage in the last three years and wanted another one. It was on the third adoption that they made inquiry and discovered that same woman had adopted three children from a Lagos orphanage at the same time. That led to the suspicion of child trafficking as the children were not found in the address she registered as permanent home during the adoption procedure.
She claimed that they were schooling overseas, but that claim baffled the proprietress who insisted that children between 3-8 years need to be around their mother and not an aunt in London or New York.
Susan Owan, a social welfare officer, notes that the racket will continue as long as there is hardship in the land, while orphanages may need interventions from government because the owners may be lured to sell children illegally to raise fund to run the homes.
“If a mother can connive with her teenage daughter to sell a new born baby for N200,000 after nine months of pregnancy, then think of the level of hardship in the land. Of course, child traffickers are building mansions in Abuja and Lagos, and young people are seeing them, so it is easy to also convince orphanages to sell illegally then”, she says.
A concerned matron told our correspondent that some women nowadays pretend to be pregnant while they have arranged with someone who would drop a child for them without going through the necessary legal routes. According to the matron, most of those who usually enter into such criminal agreement are students and young women who became pregnant by accident and are not ready to keep the baby.
On the moral and spiritual implications of such illicit adoption, a cleric, who just gave his name as Lawson, said: “Illegal adoptions attracts God’s wrath. Going to a young lady to buy off her child because she does not want to keep the baby because of the stigma of giving birth out of wedlock is criminal. Such transactions must pass through the acceptable process that is approved in a country. Those who do such a thing live in perpetual lies. They hardly disclose to the child their real mothers and they are always secretive. It is a sin before God and man.”
The cleric explained that, “Child adoption in itself is not sinful if the right process is followed. I wonder why people should put themselves in perpetual bondage by going it the wrong way. People must be educated on the dangers inherent in buying children from anybody. By the way, human beings are not to be bought. What we are seeing now is simply one of the signs of the last days.”