ORPHANThe relevant authorities could do more to ensure the homes are doing what they are set up to do
The Association of Orphanages and Homes Operators in Nigeria (ASOHON) last week made a commitment to help in combating the growing menace of illegal orphanages and homes in Nigeria. “Our goal is to chart a course for our industry and brainstorm on actionable solutions to problems confronting the association and Nigerian orphans. We hope to bring orphanages across the country together to network and exchange information and ideas that will provide a way forward to the many challenges that abound,” said ASOHON spokesmen.

We commend this intervention by ASOHON, especially coming at a time many unscrupulous people have turned motherless babies’ homes to child trafficking centres. At some of these “orphanages”, hapless teenage girls carrying unwanted pregnancy are lured by the proprietors to their homes where they are compelled to give up their babies for varying sums of money per head, depending on the sex.

Incidentally, there is a ready market for babies given that there are genuinely childless couples–some of them rich and prominent in the society–who are ready to pay any price just to have children they can call their own. Two years ago, a certain “Woman of God” in Owerri, Imo State who had been childless for some years, suddenly claimed that through some “divine intervention” she had been “blessed” with seven children within a spate of one year! If these seven “miracle babies” had been through one single birth, Mrs. Precious Ogbonna would have gone into the Guinness World Record. As it would happen, her claim was that the babies were born one at a time through some mythically delayed delivery. Even her husband did not buy into this miracle tale. Somehow, it turned out that Mrs. Ogbonna had actually been buying babies off an orphanage in Port Harcourt!

It is not an accident that the United Nations ranks child trafficking as the third most common crime in Nigeria after financial fraud and drug trafficking. According to the UN, at least 10 babies are sold each day in our country. Given that the UN puts the global child trafficking business as worth US$33 billion annually, one can hazard a guess as to why some of our ‘orphanages’ want a piece of the action.

We must stress, however, that there are many childless couples who have had, or wish to have, their own babies through the normal process of adoption as allowed by law. And there are genuine orphanages doing wonderful work for the society in this regard. We must salute their efforts. In fact, in developed countries where both fertility rate and population replacement ratio have declined so considerably in the last two decades, adoption remains a viable option to any couple wishing to hear the cry of a baby in their home. However, as the adoption fad assumes a new level of popularity in Nigeria with the number of potential adopters far exceeding what the legal orphanages could offer, there has been an equal rise in the mushrooming of all manner of motherless babies’ homes. In the process, we now have orphanages, which in a desperate quest for quick money, sell babies, even to known ritualists.

We therefore call on the relevant authorities especially the social welfare departments and ministries of Women Affairs, as well as the NAPTIP, the security agencies and the civil society groups to step up their supervisory and monitoring efforts on these orphanages. The approving authorities should equally raise the standard and ensure that certain minimal conditions are met by would-be operators of orphanages. As for the child merchants who come under the guise of charity homes to perpetrate their nefarious activities, they should be made to face the full wrath of the law.