Operators of orphanage homes in some states of the North East say support from individuals and organisations is inadequate, just as the geo-political zone battles with security challenges.
Respondents to a News Agency of Nigeria survey in Bauchi, Gombe, Adamawa, Borno, Yobe and neighbouring Jigawa states, say although the state governments have been doing their best, the enormity of the challenge calls for the contributions of all and sundry.
The survey also indicated that the Child Rights Act is yet to be domesticated in almost all the states in the zone due largely to cultural and religious factors.
The Act was officially passed into law in 2003 by former President Olusegun Obansanjo as the Children’s Rights Act largely due to media pressure that national stakeholders and international organisations put on the National Assembly.
The biggest problem is that the Convention on the Rights of the Child incorporated through the Child Rights Act does not apply across the country, as only 25 states have adopted the Act, the reason being that Nigeria is a federation comprising 36 legally equal states and the Federal Capital Territory.
Some of the rights of the child as contained in the Act are that every child has the right to be born well, every child has the right to a wholesome family life, every child has the right to be raised well and become contributing member of society, every child has the right to basic needs, every child has the right to access what they need to have a good life, among others.
But then, who is a child in the Nigerian context?
The National Child Welfare Policy of 1989 defines a child as anybody who is 12 years or below. However, a draft decree put into law has now set the age of the child in Nigeria as 18 years or below.
Stakeholders and government officials have, therefore, continued to assure that they have intensified enlightenment toward changing the thinking of members of various communities, especially religious and community leaders.
In Borno, the Deputy Speaker of the state Assembly, Alhaji Abdullahi Askira, told NAN that the Bill is awaiting final consideration, just as he expressed commitment toward the domestication of the Child Rights Act.
“The Bill has passed first and second reading; the next thing is for the House to consider it during next sitting,” Askira assured.
On her part, Bawa Gana, the Director, Child Welfare, Borno Ministry of Women Affairs, says government is exploring all avenues to improve the aptitude of children across the state.
Gana said that the ministry had conducted some advocacy, sensitisation and awareness campaigns to promote domestication of the Child Rights Act.
She explained that the campaign was funded by the UN Childrens’ Fund (UNICEF) and executed in partnership with religious bodies, community-based groups, traditional rulers, as well as some Non-Governmental Organisations.
“This form of approach will address child protection more holistically, bring greater focus on prevention, and strengthen the critical roles of the key actors,” she said.
She explained that the major challenges affecting the domestication of the Act in most states in the North are cultures and religious beliefs, but added that with more engagements, people were beginning to accept it.
“We have inaugurated the state chapter of the Nigerian Children’s Parliament as part of efforts to provide veritable platforms for children to harness their abilities to attain leadership role,” she said.
She stated that the state government had established Orphanage Homes where less fortunate children were provided education, healthcare and protection.
“We have about 140 orphans, aged from three to 27 in three Orphanage Homes in Maiduguri.
“We also have about 200 orphans from the state who are on full study scholarship by the Kano State Government as part of the gesture of the state to victims of insurgency,” said Gana.
On adoption of orphans in the state, Gana, who did not give an exact figure, said only few orphans had been adopted so far.
She said modalities for adoption include the demonstration of love and care shown to the child.
“The process included meeting with a committee of the ministry, obtaining a security clearance, then passing through series of interviews.
“Once you meet the requirements and we are satisfied with the outcome of investigations and interviews, a letter of authorisation to adopt will be given to you.
“We also carry out medical test for all children, visit the homes of adopters to ensure that the child will be taken to conducive and safe environment.
“Part of the agreement is to also receive regular reports on children adopted,” Gana said.
In Adamawa, Hassan Muhammed, the state Director, Child Development and Protection programme, State Ministry of Women Affairs, Youths and Social Empowerment, said there are five registered Orphanage Homes.
Muhammed said one of the homes belonged to the state government, while the others are managed by private individuals and associations, adding that “the ministry is still updating the list of inmates.”
On the child adoption policy, he said that there was no such policy in the state.
“We have no child adoption policy in the state, but in place of that, we encourage foster child policy. The ministry has a Child Rights Protection Department handling matters pertaining child fostering.”
He said couples desirous of fostering a child must apply and also appear physically for interview.
On the issue of domesticating the Child Rights Act, Felicia John of the UNWomen, Adamawa branch, said that the Bill had passed second reading at the state House of Assembly.
Similarly, Malam Gambo Muhammad, Coordinator, Yetim Care Orphanage Home, Damaturu, a privately-owned orphanage home in Yobe, said “the home is sponsoring the primary, secondary and tertiary education of all 159 inmates.”
He said that the home, which is the only of its type in Damaturu, relied on contributions and donations from government, philanthropists, organisations and individuals for the running of its affairs.
The coordinator said that the age bracket of the orphans ranged from seven to 23, and that the process of enrollment was partly vested on the state’s Ministry of Religious Affairs.
“The ministry is responsible for going round local government areas in the state to source for orphans for enrollment; we had to involve them because initially, people were skeptical of releasing orphans to attend boarding schools for security reasons,” he said.
Muhammad added that the orphanage only enrolled children who lost either of their parents, and must also be less-privileged, who do not have anyone within the family to sponsor their education and provide their needs.
He said that the state’s Ministry of Health had provided a dispensary with qualified medical personnel for the home.
According to him, the management of the home does not allow adoption of inmates, but their guardians can retrieve them any time they want.
Meanwhile, an official of Gombe State Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development said child adoption would only be allowed in the state when the Child Rights Act is domesticated to guarantee protection of children.
Mr Joseph Markus, the Director of Child Development in the ministry, told NAN that the state government was keen on ensuring the welfare and rights of children in the state.
He said, “We believe that children, whether orphans or not, are the future of the state and the country, and so, they deserve care and love. In Gombe State, we do not have any case of adoption.
“What we have is Child Fostering, where we provide a stable family life for children or orphans, and we strictly monitor to ensure that the children get family care and love.
“For now, we do not have any case of adoption because the Child’s Rights Act has not been domesticated, even though we have gone far in the process to get it done.
“When the Act is domesticated and we are sure that there is the law to guarantee the protection of children wherever they are in the state, we will give room for adoption.”
He stated that orphans must be given the right atmosphere to develop like every other child, irrespective of their status, as such government was very strict in registering Orphanage Homes in the state.
“So far, we have only eight registered orphanages in the state because we consider many things before registration – from infrastructure to environment, and the kind of schools the children are to attend,“ he stressed.
The director said that although there were requests for registration of new orphanages, the ministry would not compromise on the requirements.
In Jigawa, there is only one orphanage home, operated by the state government under the Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development, according to AbdulRashid Inuwa, the Officer in charge of the home.
Inuwa said the facility, located in Dutse, was established in 2017 to carter for abandoned children and orphans.
The official added that there are presently eight children in the facility, all of them below the age of six.
He said, “there are 20 other children being fostered by women in some parts of the state, but they were children given out even before the establishment of the orphanage.”
Meanwhile, Hassana Arkilla, the Executive Chairman of Bauchi State Orphans and Vulnerable Children Agency (BASOVCA), said “there are a total of 18 inmates at the state-owned orphanage located in Bauchi.”
Arkilla said most of the orphans had been under the care of foster parents, adding that BASOVCA provided the education and health needs of those in government orphanage.
According to her, there has never been a reported case of maltreatment of orphans in the state.
Meanwhile, NAN checks revealed that the Bauchi State House of Assembly is yet to domesticate the Child Rights Act due to some bureaucratic impediments and cultural perceptions of the law.
Attempt to secure comment of officials of the state Ministry of Women Affairs on the domestication of the Act proved futile, but Comfort Attah, the Director of a Bauchi-based organisation known as “Attah Sisters Helping Hand” (ASHH) attributed the non-domestication of the Act to cultural and religious factors.
The story is same in Katsina, Sokoto, Kebbi, Kano and Zamfara states as officials there too said they were still making efforts to domesticate the Child Rights Act.
In spite of the non-domestication of the Act, government officials in the four states said the rights of children were being protected under existing laws.
They particularly said that orphanages were being monitored to ensure that inmates were not molested in anyway, while setting stringent conditions for adoption.
In Katsina State, Hajiya Amina Dauda, the Special Adviser to Gov. Aminu Masari on Girl-Education and Child Development, said that a meeting with stakeholders on domestication of the Child Rights Act was stalled over some fundamental disagreements.
She, however, said that the government was looking for ways to address the differences.
On adoption and operations of children homes, the special adviser said that the state government has a home that takes care of abandoned children, orphans and the mentally unstable.
“Vulnerable children that needed care and attention are also kept in the home, as it serves as transit camp for those category of children, pending their reunification with their parents,” she said.
Dauda added that the government provided funds for the running of the home, and had spent more than N73.5 million to support 400 orphans and vulnerable children from 2015 till date.
The Executive Secretary of the State Sharia Commission, Magaji Liman, explained that the disagreement was because the provisions in the Act were in conflict with Islamic law and culture of the people, as such would be difficult to enforce.
In Kano, the state government said the Bill for domestication of the Act was at its final stage, and would be forwarded to the state Assembly soon.
Hajiya Hauwa Suleiman, the Deputy Director, Child Development, Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development, told NAN that the domestication of the Act was to protect the rights of children and their development.
Suleiman said that the Bill, when passed, would also strengthen government social protection policy, the state compulsory education policy, and children’s health and well-being.
On orphanages, the deputy director said that “the state government runs two orphanages in Nasarawa and Gaya local government areas.”
She explained that children in such homes were given out to foster parents “because adoption is unIslamic and against the culture of the people.
“There is a standard fostering committee set up by the government with different stakeholders such as Ministry of Justice, Human Right, Local Government, Civil Society among others, who handle the issue of fostering a child from the orphanage.
“When a child is given out, the fostering committe pays unscheduled visits to check how the child is faring to ensure the child is safe.
“There was no report of maltreatment of any child in 2020, but the ministry received four such reports in 2019, where it revoked the fostering right immediately and took over the four children.”
In Kebbi, the Speaker of the state Assembly, Alhaji Abdulmumeen Kamba, said that the legislators were ready to pass the Bill once it was presented to them.
He said that the Act needed inputs and consensus of stakeholders for it to make the desired impact.
A Coalition of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) in Birnin Kebbi is also pushing for the domestication of the Child Rights Act in the state.
Rotimi Olawale, the Executive Director and co-Founder of YouthHub Africa, said “as concerned civil society organisations and citizens, the growing risks faced by children due to the delayed passage and implementation of the Child Rights Bill in Kebbi State cannot be overemphasised.
“The rights of children must be given urgent attention.
“Statistics by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) shows that approximately six out of every 10 Nigerian children under the age of 18 years experience some form of physical, sexual and emotional violence.”
Olawale added that the implementation of the Act would uphold the duties and obligations of government, parents, organisations and bodies toward children.
On adoption, the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Services, Hajiya Aisha Muhammad, explained that prospective child adopters must first write an application to court.
“Where the applicant is a married couple, the marriage certificate or sworn declaration of the marriage must be accompanied with the application.
“The birth certificate or sworn declaration of age of each applicant, two passport size photographs of each applicant must be attached.
“Medical certificate of fitness of the applicant from hospital and such other documents as requirements and information as the court may require for purpose of the adoption must also be made available,” she said.
Muhammad added that “it is the court that decides on applications based on its findings and recommendations of child welfare officers in the ministry.”
Hajiya Aisha Dantsoho, the Permanent Secretary, Sokoto State Ministry of Women and Children Affairs, said that the domestication of the Child Rights Act has reached advanced stage.
Dantsoho said that public hearings were conducted, including sensitisation visits to lawmakers, judiciary, traditional and religious institutions.
She added that “the draft bill is before the Attorney General of the state, who will table it before the State Executive Council before it is sent to the state Assembly.”
Meanwhile, Sokoto State Ministry of Social Development, confirmed that the state has two orphanage homes.
Ummu Usman, the Public Relations Officer of the ministry, told NAN that foster parents apply through the Ministry which scrutinised the request before forwarding it to a court for endorsement.
Usman said an average of 20 children were being taken into foster care annually from the two operating orphanage homes.
According to her, a philanthropist, Alhaji Ummarun Kwabo, has established special orphanage home housing children mostly affected by insurgency from North East.
The situation is the same in Zamfara, where the governor’s wife, Hajiya Aisha Matawalle, is spearheading agitations to get the Child Rights Act domesticated.
One of her aides, Hajiya Fatima Musa, said that the only orphanage home in the state is owned by government.
“You are aware, immediately Gov. Bello Matawalle assumed office, few months after his inauguration, he visited orphanage home in Gusau, where he adopted all the orphans in the state as his children.
“Since then, the activities of orphanage homes in the state have been revived, the lives of orphans have been improved in terms of their education, health and social development.
“We all know about the Child Rights Act, we know its advantages in terms of child development and survival.
“This government since our emergence in May 2019, my office has been making efforts to ensure the domestication of the Act and its proper implementation in the state.
“We held several meetings with the Ministry for Women, Children and Social Development on this issue, we are still working on it.
“We are committed toward any policy that will improve the lives of our people, not only orphans.”
Also, the state Commissioner of Women, Children and Social Development, Hajiya Zainab Lawal, assured that the government was working toward domesticating the Act.
However, the Act had been domesticated by the Kaduna State Government under the state Child Welfare and Protection Law, which came into effect in 2019.
Kaduna State, which adopted the Child Rights Act, made elaborate arrangements to protect children in orphanages and monitor their movement.
Hajiya Hafsat Baba, the Commissioner for Women Affairs and Social Development, said the government encouraged owners of orphanages to form an association for easy interface with government.
She said that the government would constitute a board of trustees to run its orphanages in Kaduna, Zaria and Kafanchan, so that the homes would be run independently.
“We have over 40 orphanages in the state and they have all been captured in the Kaduna State Geographic Information System. We have all their addresses, where they are and we can easily locate them.
“They also have an association, so it is easier for us to get them and we are working hand in hand with them to ensure they also checkmate each other, because they wouldn’t want any of them to violate the laws of the state and also to ensure the safety and the protection of the children.”
Baba added that the government was currently working on a comprehensive register of all inmates of various orphanages in the state.
She said “no orphanage is allowed to keep a child till adulthood; we encourage them to actually give them out for adoption from five months to three years.
“We have also established adoption committee under the ministry that is responsible for screening, so if you are interested in adopting a child, you come to the ministry and obtain a form at N10,000, which goes into the orphanages account to help us support the children.
“The family will go through screening by the adoption committee, which recommends to the commissioner for approval or otherwise.
“We then keep constant track of the children to ensure they are doing well.” (NAN)