“You’re adopted!”. I am sure this is a joke a few of us have told our siblings when they were being super annoying. But did you know that under Ghanaian laws, it’s illegal to tell someone that they are adopted unless you’re the legally adopted parents of that person? And even at that, you must have a compelling reason for disclosing to your child that they have been adopted. You would be forgiven for not knowing because much like the basic facts about adoption in Ghana, many of us may not be aware.
Adoption in Ghana has sometimes been viewed as a taboo topic with many prospective adoptive parents (“PAPs”) being reluctant to disclose their thoughts and feelings, of wanting to adopt, to family and friends. It’s the perception that only folks who are unable to conceive are those likely to consider adopting. This, however, is very far from the truth. In fact, day in, day out, a lot of PAPs are continuously searching for information on how to adopt. Not because they may be unable to conceive but because they feel the calling and would like to either help a child in need or that they would simply like to expand their family by bringing joy into the lives of the less fortunate. Whatever the reason may be, adopting a child is a blessing which as the popular saying goes, “many are called but few are chosen” to do.
What is adoption? The simplest way of defining it is that adoption is a way of providing a child who needs a family with a new family. Adoption is a socio-legal procedure that transfers the parental responsibilities for a child to an adoptive parent. Once an adoption order has been granted, it cannot be reversed unless in very rare circumstances.
How would one begin this amazing journey to adopting a child? Well, this blog post does well to explore the “when, how, where and how much would it cost me” of adoption in Ghana. Many of us may not be aware, but Ghanaians have been adopting children for years. Even you may be adopted. We may be so used to hearing about the “legal” and “formal” way of adopting that we tend to ignore the “traditional” way of adopting.
Under Ghanaian laws, there are two ways of adopting a child in Ghana.
1. Adoption under the Children’s (Amended) Act 2016 (Act 937), and
2. Customary Law Adoption
We can begin by elaborating on customary law adoption.
Adopting under the customary laws of adoption is rather simple and straightforward. Even though it may not be accepted under certain international circles due to a lack of formal paperwork, Ghanaian law does recognize customary law adoption.
To adopt under customary law adoption, a PAP must ensure the following 3 requirements are met:
- The consent of parents of the child must be obtained,
2. The intention to adopt must be made expressly or implied from circumstances at the time, and
3. The adoption must be made in the presence of witnesses.
A Ghanaian court will recognize any adoption that prescribes these requirements. However, most PAPs may not feel secure until they have a “piece of paper” i.e. a court order which clearly states that they have adopted a child, which also leaves no room for doubt.
For that, we can turn our attention to adoption under the Children’s (Amended) Act 2016 (Act 937).
In 2016, Ghana became a party to the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption (the “Hague Convention”). This meant that all Intercountry (international) and In-country (local) adoption processing had to be done in accordance with the requirements of the Hague Convention. Therefore, the Children’s Act of Ghana had to be amended to ensure that the Hague Convention was recognized and properly implemented in Ghana.
The Central Adoption Authority (the “CAA”) of Ghana was then established to oversee all adoptions in Ghana. The CAA works hand in hand with the Department of Social Welfare (the “DSW”) on both in-country and intercountry adoptions in Ghana.
We will focus on in-country adoptions in this article.
Types of Adoptions in Ghana
Under the Children’s Act, there are two types of adoptions. Relative and Non-Relative adoption. A relative adoption is where the PAP and the child have filiations through blood, adoption, or marriage. A non-relative adoption is where the PAP and the child have no filiations.
Who can be adopted?
An adoptable child is a child who:
- Is under the age of 18,
- Has been abandoned or has been relinquished to the state by his or her parents or relatives and needs a permanent family,
- Is under a Care Order by the courts and cannot be kept in or reunited with his or her family,
- Relevant consents for adoption have been obtained for.
The CAA has recently created an adoption roaster where all children who are eligible to be adopted have had their names entered onto that list. Unfortunately, that list grows by the day however the infrastructure in place to keep up with the pace of this growth is lacking and a lot of children may end up falling into the cracks. Some children may find themselves on the adoption roaster until they age out while others may be illegally given out for adoption since no proper record of their existence is available. Child trafficking is one of the many issues found in adoption in Ghana, however, this is a topic for another day.
Who can adopt?
To qualify for in-country adoption, the PAP must meet the following requirements:
- Habitually resident in Ghana,
- Not less than 25 years old and at least 21 years older than the child and not more than 55 years old at the time of placement of the child, for non-relative adoptions and not more than 65 years old for a relative adoption,
- Has been declared medically fit,
- Has not been convicted of any child related offenses, and
- Has a suitable means of livelihood.
It must also be noted that in Ghana, married couples may jointly apply or may with the consent of their spouse, singly apply to adopt. Females who are single and are Ghanaian or residents in Ghana may apply to adopt. Males however may not apply to adopt unless they are adopting their biological son, or the court deems that there are special circumstances. Same-sex couples may not adopt from Ghana.
The Adoption Procedure
Due to the lack of information out there concerning the adoption procedure, many PAPs find themselves starting from the wrong end of the procedure. There have been circumstances where PAPs have gone round orphanages looking for a child to adopt and then when they finally find a child they want to adopt, they inform the DSW and request their help with finalizing the adoption. Although this procedure sounds about right and is the most popular way PAPs begin their adoption journey, the amended Children’s Act actually forbids it. The responsibility of finding a child for an applicant to adopt lies solely with the DSW and the CAA which oversees the adoption process will make it difficult for adoption that begins this way to be concluded. There have also been circumstances where PAPs take children away from other relatives and just live with the child as if they are the child’s parents without going through any formal adoption procedures. There have even been circumstances where PAPs are given children by doctors and nurses in hospitals and the PAPs don’t go through any process whatsoever to formally adopt the child. The above-listed options are not only wrong, but they are also illegal, and PAPs must endeavor to always go through the right processes.
A person who wishes to adopt a child in Ghana must follow the following procedure:
- The applicant must obtain information on their eligibility and/or suitability to undertake the adoption process from the CAA, the DSW, an adoption agency or a lawyer.
- The applicant may then obtain an adoption application form from their local DSW office and apply to adopt.
- Applicants must then submit all the required paperwork to the DSW and pay the adoption application fee. The paperwork to submit include but are not limited to the applicant’s marriage certificate, birth certificate, a medical report and proof of finances.
- Once an application has been received by the DSW, the applicant must submit to a home study report which is basically a background investigation performed on the applicant by the DSW. The home study report contains information on who the applicant is and the DSW’s assessment on the applicant’s suitability to adopt. The applicant may be required to undertake adoption training if necessary.
- The applicant will then be added to the roaster of PAPs suitable to adopt in Ghana and shall remain on that list until the CAA matches the applicant with a suitable child.
It would seem like once an applicant is placed on the adoption roaster, the swift fairy tale to finding a child begins. However, that is not always the case. Unfortunately, due to the lack of both human and financial resources to assist with properly organizing the adoption roaster, and assisting to move the adoption process along, some PAPs are left on the waiting list for months and even years. This frustrating process then forces the PAPs to either leave the adoption process altogether or find some not-so-legal ways of adopting a child.
During the application process, PAPs are allowed to make a request for the type of child they would be happy to adopt. For example, a PAP may request on their application form that they would like to adopt a female child between the ages of 0-2 years old. They may also specify the number of children they would like to adopt. PAPs are even allowed to state whether they would be happy to adopt a child with a physical or mental disability.
PAPs who are blessed to be matched with a child is required to undertake a one-month bonding period with their child. During this bonding period, PAPs are expected to spend time with the child to be adopted and upon completion of this bonding period, the DSW will interview the PAPs, and the child if he or she is old enough to speak, and a report will be written on whether bonding has taken place and if the applicant may proceed to legally and formally adopt the child.
If bonding has occurred, pending provision of necessary paperwork and reports by the DSW and the CAA, the PAP may then proceed to court to finalize the adoption. Upon receipt of the adoption court order, and the issuance of a post-adoption birth certificate for the child, the adoption would be complete.
An in-country adoption could last anywhere between 6 months to a year. The period of waiting to be matched with a child is mostly the reason why adoptions take long. Once an applicant is matched with a child, adoption could be completed within 3 to 6 months.
Fees for adoption in Ghana vary depending on the circumstances. For example, in-country adoption fees at the DSW may cost an applicant upwards of GHC3,000 while an intercountry adoption for foreigners may cost an applicant upwards of $3,000. These fees do not include out-of-pocket expenses for the DSW, travel expenses, court costs, medical reports, adoption agency fees, legal fees etc. An in-country applicant must therefore be prepared to spend as much as GHC10,000 in DSW adoption application fees as well as DSW out-of-pocket expenses. With the inclusion of legal fees and/or adoption agency fees, the applicant must be prepared to spend a further GHC10,000 in the pursuit of adopting a child.
Most applicants avoid costs by going at it alone however the challenge is that the process for the applicants tends to be long and confusing and they may end up spending more than they should have, had they received professional guidance and help from the start of the adoption.
Adopting a child could be an amazing experience. There will be high points and there will be low points. There could be points where an applicant could give up or even end up taking illegal steps they shouldn’t have. Embarking on the journey to adopting a child in Ghana has never been easy since information on adoption in Ghana is hard to come by. The information we get on the news and in the newspaper doesn’t help much either when the dominant headline would be on child trafficking. The underpaid and overworked staff at the DSW have had many bad experiences with PAPs that the provision of information on adoption to PAPs may not be forthcoming which tends to leave the PAPs seeking advice in the wrong places and sometimes even taking matters into their own hands. With all these distractions and negative connotations, adopting a child, when you’re not capable of having your own, or adopting a child because you feel called to do so, is a blessing which the orphaned and needy children in Ghana desperately require. You don’t have to be the next Angelina Jolie and adopt your own mini-UN. However, by adopting a child, you may be the future parent to your very own Olympic gold medal winner, such as Simone Biles.
Cleopatra Nsiah Nketiah
N Nketiah Law