Chief Emeka Ejide is the founder/CEO of My Child, My Care Initiative. He was former Director, Child Department in the Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development, Anambra State. In this interview with Kasie Abone, Ejide speaks on the menace of baby factory operation in the state, the laws guiding the operation of motherless babies’ homes, procedures for obtaining operational licence, child trafficking/labour and what the government is doing to curb the ugly trend among other issues
Cases of some orphanages in Anambra State selling babies make headlines often. What is your ministry doing to stem this inhuman act?
Well, in the past we hammered on it but right now, we have not had any case of any children’s home in Anambra State getting involved in the area of child trafficking and sale of babies. Whenever such issues come up, the ministry does not waste time. Few months ago, there was a reported case of where a children’s home was involved in some unethical conduct. The ministry did not waste time in shutting it down. And when they find such institutions innocent of allegations against them they’re reopened. But the only good thing it does to the ministry is that it opens their horizons of more corporate surveillance and then use of orders. When we are talking about the orders, we are talking about the components that make it functional. And that is the Child’s Rights Club, the Children’s Parliament, Child Protection Network, the NAPTIP Working Group and the Watchdog.
Are there laws guiding the operation of motherless babies homes in Anambra State? If so, what’s their position on the mode of adoption of orphans?
Let me start by putting the issue very straight. In Anambra State, we don’t have motherless babies’ homes, rather what we have is Community Children’s Homes in line with the Child’s Right Law of Anambra State that was passed in 2004 and assented to in 2006. Adoption is a legal process. It has its own guidelines but incidentally it is anchored and centred on the Ministry of Women Affairs. In Anambra State, adoption was centralised prior to the 1965 laws of the Eastern Nigeria and it was in 1998 under the Edict 10 that was eventually promulgated in 1999. That Edict number 10 centralised adoptions in Anambra State and ever since then, with the emergence of Child’s Right Law, adoption in Anambra is still centralised. Any adoption that does not go through the Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development is null and void. The Child’s Right Law makes the provision. It is only in the Ministry of Women Affairs that we have what we call child development officers that are entrusted with the specific functions in the law and that guides them to make a specific report that will guide the court in determining the adoption of a child.
How functional has the law been in guiding the operation of Community Children’s Home operators?
Even before the enactment of this Child’s Rights Law in Anambra in 2006, we have the guidelines that established what we now refer to as Institutional Child Care Centres. These centres are where children who are not in family homes but are in institutions; and when they’re in institutions they’re expected to have a guideline that sees to the establishment, the management and supervision of such homes. And such oversight function is being manned by the ministry responsible for child’s development issues which is the Ministry of Women Affairs. And also when the law came into being to ensure that the Child’s Right Law is implemented to the letter, the state had to establish or institutionalise what we call the Family Court. It is the specialised court that handles child related issues and at the same time uses the Child’s Right Act and the Child’s Right Law as its tool for service delivery. And why do we have such specialised courts? It’s because such courts are not only manned at the higher level we call the judicial level by the judge but also equally manned by appointed assessors. So, the inclusion of assessors or officers that have attributes on child psychology as members of that court makes that court a specialised court. It is equally tenable at the magistrate court but under the magistrate court, the presiding chief magistrate is the head of the family court. And for you to have a family court it must be manned by at least, two assessors and the presiding judge.
How far has this specialised court gone in prosecuting offenders of the Child’s Right Law?
Prosecution issue is a different ball game because the problem we have in seeing that matters get to their logical conclusion for justice administration is that what we call the perpetrators and the victims; because the victims are usually the minors; and the minors are being guided by their guardians or parents. So this second group, the perpetrators are always unwilling to continue with the prosecution. And that’s why most times you see matters being struck out due to delinquent prosecution. You see, there is a stigma that has to do with the socio-cultural background of the people who believe that exposure of certain violence against children can breed a lot of stigmatisation which has adverse social effects on the children. And so many people prefer not to go ahead with it. What they want to achieve is just to be heard that such an act took place; and then, going ahead to ensure that justice is given is what they don’t do. It has nothing to do with the law in place because there is a provision that made it clear that certain violence against the child attracts life imprisonment. For example, unlawful carnal knowledge of a child attracts life imprisonment and it’s immaterial whether you have the consent of the child or not. It is equally immaterial if you presume that such a child is not a child. So the provisions are quite there. So the problem is the people. Our people are not enlightened enough to know that once you’re able to take a matter to its logical end it will equally deter further perpetration of certain violence against children.
What are the modalities for issuing licences to orphanages in the state?
There is no law prohibiting the initiative of establishing a community children’s home but there is a guiding principle that you ought to meet certain standards as entrenched in that operational guidelines. But the ministry actually lacks the necessary manpower to ensure adequate surveillance and supervision of these homes. That is why, in order to complement their efforts, with the support of the UNICEF and NAPTIP, there is what we call the state’s working group. The group under NAPTIP has the director of child development as the focal point. The essence is to ensure that certain acts of violence against children are fully exposed and taken to its logical conclusion. At the same time, with the support from UNICEF, we’re able to establish Child Protection Network. It is what we call the Surveillance Mechanism that is in every community and local government areas but eventually in Anambra State we have it in the flood-prone council areas and at the state level. What is the function of this surveillance mechanism? It’s to make sure that perpetrators of violence against children are exposed and such matters are never swept under the carpet. Then the Act of parliament that led to the enactment of the Child’s Right Law is what we call the State’s Child Rights Monitoring and Prosecution Committee and the Local Government Child Rights Monitoring and Prosecution Committee. These are instruments put in place to complement the effective operation of the child’s rights. But then, the utilisation of such provision is also a problem.
Why did you establish My Child, My Care Initiative?
In My Child, My Care Initiative, we call it a total wellbeing. This is because we have the passion and we’re also very compassionate. And we know about the problems of most children; their vulnerability and how they’re most vulnerable in times of crisis; in terms of unfriendly environment. We now decided that having been a crusader in the past; on war against violence on children, this very issue of My Child, My Care Initiative is also a platform to see that children are properly protected; to see that children do not suffer any deprivation; to actually see that children are directed properly and given the right place. For example, we are against street hawking; we’re against children not being in school; against children not having adequate medical attention and we’re against children lacking one necessity of life or the other. We’re hell-bent on ensuring that the basic rights of the child are never denied.