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Addressing the Malpractice in Child Adoption, Fostering and Related Issues in Enugu State of Nigeria
The road to becoming a parent comes with several responsibilities, and when young children of school going age become parents, these new responsibilities can be very over-helming and daunting. And for teenage parents who lack the support of their own parent, this experience can be even more challenging and horrifying as they crave for support in a system that is adult –oriented in the main part where even the older parents find rather difficult to cope (Ekefre, Ekamen & Ekpenyong 2014).
Teenage parents, generally or pupils or secondary school students with children, as they are usually referred to in some literature, are parents that fall within the age bracket of thirteen (13) ( or less) and nineteen (19). Though statistics from the National Demographic and Health Survey (NDHS) conducted in 2008 show that the South-east geopolitical zone has the lowest percentage of Women age 15–19 who are mothers or now pregnant, however, the severity of the challenges that these set of young adults face stem from other factors. In many instances, these girls are known to drop out of school due mostly to pressures they experience right from their pregnancy period, which include societal stigmatization that is associated with early parenting; isolation from their peers; and lack of the necessary support from their family, friends, schools, social service agencies and other organizations (Ekefre et al. 2014). These factors no doubt emerge because of the cultural and normative values that teenage pregnancy is assumed to breach.
Apart from the social or cultural challenges regularly confronting pregnant teenagers usually out of wedlock, there are even more disturbing factors which merit serious attention from relevant quarters. For instance, it is estimated that about 16 million adolescent girls give birth every year mostly in low and middle income countries. Additionally, three (3) million girls aged 15-19 are estimated to engage in unsafe abortions every year. Pregnancy related complications that can potentially lead to death are found to occur among most girls aged 15-19 years in most developing countries. Still births and new born deaths amount to about 50% higher among infants of adolescent mothers than among infants of women aged 20-29 years (Ekefre et al. 2014).
The causes of this phenomenon of unprepared teenage pregnancy are not farfetched. First, the issue of poverty as a major factor as can be seen in low and middle income countries where over thirty (30%) percent of girls marry before they are eighteen (18) years of age, and fourteen (14%) percent before they are fifteen (15) years (as cited in Ekefre et al. 2014). This is not different for a country like Nigeria where extreme poverty has remained dominant in many parts of the country. Another cause of this phenomenon include the very low levels of education among most of the families involved. This is corroborated with the near zero presence of sex and sexuality education in several communities in Nigeria. Due to cultural and traditional norms, most parents in Nigeria find it difficult to engage their children who are of adolescent age in sex and sexuality education. These cultural and traditional norms are so strong that the children may not be able to know the proper names of their sex or reproductive organs. This claim is captured by Kohler, Manhart and Laffety (2008) when they stated that “A global coverage measure related to sexuality education estimates that only 36% of young men and 24% of young women aged 15 – 24 in low and middle income countries have comprehensive and correct knowledge of how to prevent HIV”
A disturbing dimension to this incidence of teenage pregnancy in developing countries is that, in certain circumstances, adolescent girls are unable to resist or refuse sex. This is due to obvious prevalence of sexual violence, and this mostly affects adolescent girls in Nigeria. Cases of rape are becoming rampant which is further compounded by the involvement of some fathers and older adults in the inducement of adolescent girls where the “baby factory” in Imo, Enugu and Anambra states illustrates the weakness of the adolescent girls to refuse sex (Channels Television, 15th July, 2013). Indeed, about one third of girls in some countries testify that their first sexual encounter was through coercion (Elfenbein and Felice, 2011).
In recent years, under the guise of helping to ameliorate the hardship of these teenagers involved as most of them are frustrated out of their primary homes, some organizations (mainly Non-Governmental) have risen to provide some succor to these girls. However, the outcome and intentions behind the gestures of these organizations have become a major issue of public concern. The growing level of infertility among various couples and sometimes the need to have a child of a particular gender has led to an upsurge in the level of adoption among young couples. Though adoption, which is legal act of permanently placing a child with a parent or parents other than biological ones (Agbo, 2014), is not in itself a new thing, the some of these organizations rendering care to these vulnerable teenagers are known to have made an enterprise out of this situation. This is not a direct result of any legal gap in existing laws. The legal requirements and procedures for child adoption are very clear. This is because any abuse of these procedure will make children vulnerable to child trafficking, enslavement and other kinds of child abuse. It is due to these risks which are found in adoption system that in Nigeria, adoption process is regulated by the Nigerian Child Right Laws or the adoption Act of 1965. The procedure for child law/judiciary states that anybody wishing to adopt a child must firstly lodge an application to the Director of Child Development Department in the Ministry of Women Affairs and Child Development (Agbo, 2014).
However, the obvious truth is these set of laws have not succeeded in preventing or curtailing these potentially envisaged circumstances. The media has in the last few years been awash with news of various ‘’charity” organizations that have since become “baby factories pumping out babies for sale on the illegal adoption market. This new “market” and obviously illegal market for transaction in babies is represents of failure of enforcement of the part of the relevant government agencies on the matter of child adoption. Various government response to this issue have rather remained reactive and shallow in conception and delivery. While the police is has been left to handle identifies cases as criminal offences, the very root of these emerging phenomenon is yet to be properly addressed by governments in the affected states especially within the South-East geopolitical zone. For instance, as government began clamping down on existing baby factories across the zone, news about new and existing cases of such facilities have not ceased to appear. While some for the facilities owners claim they have the legal license to undertake their trade, they certainly do not have an explanation for the how these facilities have turned to human ranches of some sort.
Sadly so, with a negative outlook towards sexual education for teenagers, pregnancy outside marriage, and a general distrust and dislike towards open, legal adoption, many turn towards these baby factories to sell or receive children under the table. The incentives to set-up facilities like theses will continue to grow as longs as the following factors persist: “poverty, unemployment & a weak system; stigmas against proper sex education for teenagers; stigma against infertility among couples; stigma against babies born outside a marriage; stigma against teenage pregnancy and pregnancy out of wedlock, and stigmas against open and legal adoption” (curled from Against Baby Factory In Nigeria website, http://againstbabyfactory.com/).
In Enugu State, the response of the security agencies and other public agencies of the government saddled with the responsibility of protecting children, has been swift but incomprehensive. The government had embarked on the ensured the closure of all such orphanage homes involved in the embarrassing practice of child trafficking and the ‘Baby factory’ menace. This directive of the government is evidently well executed as such incidence have seized to be reported in media in recent times. However, what has left so much to be desired is what has become of the teenage girls who were initially under the care and guidance of those dubious orphanage homes. The current set of care givers to which these girls have been re-assigned to have neither lived up to the intents of the government, nor the reasons for which the hitherto closed ‘Baby factory’ were closed in the first place. Services in these facilities which are mainly private clinics have remained poor and sometimes questionable.
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