Mr Collins Okeke, Senior Legal/Programme Officer, HURILAWS, shares his views in this interview on how government can address the baby factory phenomenon.
By Anino Aganbi
LOOKING at the rise of baby factories in Nigeria, are there no laws against such act?
There are laws that basically prohibit things like that. The challenge we have with our law is that the process for adoption is very difficult. We have a very complicated process of adoption. People tend to prefer the child buying arrangement.
I can understand why the government is very cautious in making these rules for adoption because of the type of society we live in. I believe we have a proliferation of baby factories because of our tough process of adoption. As long as the legal process of adoption is stressful, the black market will strive. In finding solution to this, the government needs to relax the styles for adoption.
Alternative ways of having children…
There are lots of other means of having children such as child surrogate process which can be looked into. In other countries, surrogate parenting has been made legal. Couples who have difficulties conceiving get someone to have the child for them and the person is paid.
Instead of allowing this black market, government should consider the possibility of having a new frame work that will allow people do it legitimately. They can easily be supervised instead of having this arrangement where people set up all kinds of homes where these girls get pregnant and their babies are sold to other people.
Process of adoption
Our society is changing very fast and our laws also need to change to reflect this. My concern is more about the implications of this kind of arrangement on the rights of some of these girls because most of them are under aged. The way forward is to make the process of adoption legitimate. If you want to go through the business of having children then you need to register and make it legitimate. The Government should recognize and regulate the process.
The reality is that there are people who cannot have children for so many reasons, it could be biological, age or any other reason, there are people who want to be single parents, there should be an arrangement where they can have the children they want and can be supervised easily just like the adoption process.
You talked about the right of the young mothers, but what happens to the rights of children given out illegally?
I started out by saying the reason why the baby black market is thriving is because the adoption law is very cumbersome. Very few people are patient enough and are ready to go through that process. Our Government also needs to reflect on the challenges of today and the realities of our society. The law needs to change to reflect these new realities. There is something wrong with selling children. You cannot use children to make money. This is happening because people do not go through the appropriate channels so they use the black market. When you adopt a child legally, then the law stipulates that the child must be well provided for. Issues like who takes care of the child, should the child’s welfare be put in the will together with the biological children among other issues become well treated within the context of the law. So if the extended family decides to cut the child out after the demise of the parents, then the child has a right to sue. Once you go through the appropriate channels of adopting a child, the child becomes your own. You cannot intimidate that child because he is entitled to everything the biological child has a right to.
Opening up black market
What should happen is that Government should open up that trade. There has to be an arrangement that will take into consideration the health and welfare of the child. Such that if you have the capacity to take care of a child, go in to understanding with someone who would handle it for you and then the government will be able to monitor you properly.
Black market baby rings
There have been instances where someone buys a child and then uses the child for awkward things. This is one of the reasons the adoption process is very strict and very difficult. Whoever is adopting has to be ready to take proper care of that child. Government should begin to supervise these black market baby rings so they would no longer remain under ground.
Creating detailed birth records: Rather than the government shutting this area down completely, they should step in and supervise the adoption process. That way, after getting someone to have a child for you, it is recorded. People can sell a child outside the country and there will be no record of that child or where the child would be taken to. We have heard of instances where somebody buys a child in rivers and takes the child to Sokoto and there is no record. It is important that government goes into that area. That way it would be easy to keep records and account of what happens.
Are there no laws to at least straighten things out to some extent?
There are laws, am not sure about the specific ones but I know there is a law against child trafficking, the child rights act is also there. The challenge is that these things are done underground so it is difficult to keep track. It is only when there is a bust that we get to know what is happening. Millions of children are sold every day and nobody is able to keep account of what happens. Making the process of adoption a bit more would encourage people to stop using the black market channels.
But there have been arrests going on and yet no body has been punished….
There are so many reasons why it is difficult to mete out punishment, our criminal justice system is not exactly what it should be. There are challenges with investigation. Some of these organizations that are supposed to help in enforcing the laws lack the capacity.
Surrogacy or adoption
The second aspect is the she-man angle to it. Most times you would see that the police sometimes are sympathetic to the victims or people who are suspects. For instance, you have a couple who needs a child and there is somebody who has it and is willing to sell it, these couples are willing to care for the child properly and you are saying they should lock them up.
When you have a situation like that, it becomes very difficult for them to do their jobs properly. They may also have difficulties coming hard on them because of the way our society is. It is a very complicated process.
The government should be able to put an easy system in place either for surrogacy or adoption where a detailed record of the numbers of children born and who is adopting them is kept instead of hanging them because if you catch one today, tomorrow they will go somewhere else and start up business. With the way our law enforcement is, they may not be able to catch everybody.