14 November 2017

Nigeria: Champions of Child Adoption

Regardless of the misconception about child adoption in Nigeria, Ikenna Ekwerike explores the power of giving a child a loving home.

Not too many people know that the popular Nollywood celebrity, Joke Silva, spent the earliest part of her life in the orphanage. Yes! Mrs. Joke Jacobs, wife to another veteran actor, Olu Jacobs, experienced the power of adoption which Mrs. Dolapo Osinbajo, wife of Nigeria's Vice-President, described as the power of love in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Silva, both of blessed memory.

"I received love; I got the best of everything a daughter could ever wish for from her parents. People outside the immediate family could never tell that I was an adopted child. The bonding between me and my mother was indescribable. My mother was the first person who taught me how to pray and whatever problem I brought to her she would always say, 'Joke have you been on your knees? Oya take it to Daddy, take it to Baba God'.

"Even in their wills, there was no separation; my father protected me with his will. He said 'all my children, whether adopted or not... ' I cannot call my parents my adopted mother, my adopted father; they are mummy and daddy and my sisters and my brothers, my cousins, my uncles and my aunties they are family" Joke Silva reminisced as she shared her tale in celebration of her own parents who adopted her while she was still a baby with the passionate participants that converged on the Federal Palace Hotel, Lagos, on Saturday, 28 October, 2017, including wife of the Vice-President, Mrs. Osinbajo during the maiden annual conference of Heritage Adoption Support and Advocacy Group (HASAAG), with the theme: 'The power of adoption'.

Joke Silva recalled how she would never tolerate anyone casting aspersions at her mother over her inability to produce her own biological children.

"I remember a cousin of mine, she was one of those whom my mother used to give whatever she wanted; I mean she was so supportive of her. And one day she sat at the balcony of her house and she was saying: 'one of the reasons aunty Bimpe will never support you with anything is because 'won okuku bi mo' (because she didn't give birth to a child of her own) and I got to hear about it. Believe me, I did a very unchristian thing: I dealt with this girl, till today, she has never believed her eyes, I dealt with her," she recounted.

But the questions that should bother every sane mind that hears the story of Joke Silva are: Would she have been able to make this great impact on society, especially among the youths who look up to her as role model if she had not been adopted into a home and given undiluted parental attention and guidance? Again, is it the case that that innocent child who finds himself or herself in the orphanage cannot be given the chance to realise his or her destiny in life?

Undoubtedly, it is these same set of questions that provoked the soul-searching sessions which eventually fired the first psychological shots that ignited the passion in the hearts of the founders of HASAAG with the vision to change the negative perception of adoption in the Nigerian society.

While statistics indicate that there are about 17.5 million abandoned children in Nigeria, there are fears that this figure will continue to rise since studies equally show that 24 per cent of girls in Lagos get pregnant before they are 18 and there is increasing rate of pregnancies among 11 year olds in Lagos too.

Ironically, many married couples in Nigeria are having infertility to contend with. Available data reveals that about 25 per cent of married couples in the country are burdened by infertility issues. In fact, there is 40 per cent increase in male infertility in Nigeria.

But, all hope is not lost; adoption, evidence proves, is the true panacea and melting pot for infertility and child abandonment. This was the remarkably powerful message that echoed very loudly at the 1st annual conference of HASAAG.

Sadly, the topic of adoption is one not too many people know too well and some individuals would prefer never to mention it at all. For many, adoption is trouble.

To such persons Pastor Ituah Ighodalo, Chairman Board of Trustees, HASAAG, speaks: "Adoption is not trouble, it's not stress; it's not burdensome. It's an act of love, an act of concern and an act of willingness to look after other people and help them transform their lives."

He clarifies that adoption is not only for childless couples but a call everyone can actually respond to. "You already have your biological children but you can still take on one or two more children to help and educate them.

"Or maybe your children have left the house, they've now gone their own ways; in your middle to old age take on another one or two children; they don't have to be new born babes, you can look after, send them to school and treat them like your own. It will simply transform life and change society," he urged.

In this regard, one of the discussants at the conference, Mrs. Bridget Itsueli, a public speaker and marriage facilitator observed that recent increase in infertility among couples was making the issue of adoption even more urgent today.

She believed that the rise might not be unconnected with pollution of the environment, climate change, the new forms of electronic devices, the kinds of works that people now do, the kind of lifestyle people live, and clothes that people wear.

Itsueli challenged the predominant cultural notion that maternity must be natural and invalidates adoption stressing that maternity and paternity were divine whereas human beings contribute to this by educating and guiding the child without undue consideration for who the child came from.

Thus, according to Mrs. Osinbajo, who was special guest of honour at the event, becoming a parent is not just through the biological birthing of children but also by adopting a child.

She vehemently condemned the negative social and cultural perceptions attached to the practice of adoption describing any damaging comments and stigma to the practice as a hate speech.

"Do you raise your voice to speak out against the stigma attached to adoption? Do you raise your voice against the hate speech because that's what it is? Do you raise your voice against fear and uncertainty in the heart of those that are concerned? It is a choice and I implore us to please choose to speak up," she advocated.

She maintained that our collective humanity is questioned when individuals fail to care for the vulnerable and the abandoned children, adding that "the power of adoption is the power of love and we all love to be loved."

Stories of child abandonment always bring tears to the eyes of childless couples. They evoke horror and leave goose pimples on the skin of everyone with active conscience. Violence against children and various manners of child abuses are direct horrendous results of child abandonment.

Unfortunately, "abandonment is actually very common in Nigeria," Mrs. Bami Obasanya, an adoption expert with 29 years UK experience said, "But people do relinquish their children as well. When they relinquish their children it means that they actually choose not to care for them," she concluded.

Consequently, Dr Wilfred Mamah, UNICEF representative in Nigeria who was also a discussant at the conference said that children who are removed from the protective environment of family need to be cared for through adoption which is a legal act globally.

He stated: "In international convention, article 21 of the UN convention on the rights of the child, provides for adoption. The child right law of Lagos State makes adequate provision for adoption of children as a mechanism that they are given hope to realise their potential. If you expose children to violence, what will happen is that that violence will recycle and they will always become violent and become offenders."

In the same vein, Mr. Oluwatoyin Kotun, who represented the Ministry of Youth and Social Welfare, Lagos State, assured that beyond the promotion of the culture of adoption, the state was passionate about ensuring that every child handed out for adoption met an environment that is conducive for growth.

He revealed that the adoption process in Lagos State was thorough but highly simplified. That notwithstanding, participants at the conference called for a more adoptive friendly process.

One of them, Engr. Olubukola Ojurongbe, proprietor of another foundation that supports orphanages, the needy and elderly said prospective adoptive parents complain that the procedure for adoption was cumbersome and the time it takes to release the child long. She appealed to the Lagos State Government to review the process.

Thus, Itsueli feared that if the process was not made more adoptive friendly it might drive adoption under the table to become human trafficking.

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