A child may be parented through various means. Adoption is one such process by which a person may elect to parent a child. Whereas parenting may be considered a personal right, it is also considered an obligation that is governed by law. This article focuses on the procedures for adoption and the legal obligations that go with them.
Adoption is a process by which a person may acquire the right to parent a child who is generally not their biological child. In Ghana, the mother or father of the child may apply for an adoption order for the child alone or jointly with their spouse.
An adoption order, when granted, permanently transfers all legal rights, duties, responsibilities, and liabilities from the biological parent or guardian to the child or any person connected to the child to the adoptive parents. The guiding principle of adoption, like all other matters connected to children, is in the best interest of the child. Another principle is that the child should be legally adoptable.
Adoption in Ghana is governed by the Children’s Act 1998 (Act 560) as amended by the Children’s (Amendment) Act 2016 (Act 937), the Adoption Regulations 2018 (L.I.C.I.42), 2360), the Adoption Rules, 2003 (C.I. 42), and the High Court (Civil Procedure) Rules, 2004 (C.I. 47).
On what basis can a child be adopted?
A child may be adopted if all the following conditions exist:
- the child is less than eighteen years of age
- the child is in need of care and protection
- the child is under a care order, and
- other options of care for the child have been explored and adoption is considered the preferred option.
A child may be given up for adoption even if they are not under a care order and other options for care have not been exhausted. Persons who may adopt a child in such circumstances are:
- the spouse of the child’s parent
- a relative of the child or
- if special circumstances require adoption of the child.
Who is eligible to adopt a child?
A person is eligible to adopt a child if they satisfy age, health, and other eligibility requirements. The requirements vary based on the applicant’s country of origin, marital status, gender, and whether or not they are applying alone or with their spouse.
Generally, the applicant or joint applicants must satisfy these requirements:
- In the case of in-country adoption, they must be between the ages of 25 years and 55 years and at least 21 years older than the child.
- For intercountry adoption, they must be between 25 years and 50 years and at least 21 years older than the child.
- In the case of relative adoption, they must be between the ages of 21years and 65years.
- If the person is a single applicant, they must be a Ghanaian or a non-Ghanaian habitually resident in Ghana.
- In the case of in-country adoption, the applicant must be habitually resident in Ghana.
- They must have notified the Department of Social Welfare of their intention to apply for an adoption order for the child at least 3 months before the date of the order.
- In the case of a child under care of a foster parent, the child has been continuously in the care and custody of the applicant for at least 2 consecutive years immediately preceding the date of the order.
- The applicant has been declared eligible and suitable to adopt the child.
- In the case of a male applicant, they must be granted an adoption order if the application is in respect of a son or the court is satisfied that special circumstances warrant the order.
TYPES OF ADOPTION IN GHANA
The law provides for two forms of adoption. These are:
- In-Country Adoption
- Intercountry Adoption.
In-country adoption is the process by which a person may be adopted in Ghana by a person who is ordinarily resident in Ghana. In international adoption, the person who wants to adopt the child usually lives in a different country and wants to move with the child to a different country. Intercountry adoption, which is largely to adoption, er the Hague Convention of May 29 May 1993 on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption of which Ghana became a contracting state in January 2017.
REQUIREMENTS FOR IN-COUNTRY ADOPTION
In-country adoption, as the name suggests, is when a person who lives in Ghana permanently adopts a child with the plan to live with the child in Ghana.
A person is eligible to adopt a child in their own country if they meet the following criteria:
- is between the ages of 25 years and 55 years or 21 years older than the adoptable child at the time of the placement of the child.
- in the case of relative adoption, they are between the ages of 21years and 65years at the time of the placement of the child.
- is habitually resident in Ghana
- has been declared medically fit by a registered medical practitioner from a registered health institution.
- has not been convicted of a child related offence or any other offence that is detrimental to the development of the child
- has a sustainable means of livelihood
- subscribes to the basic rights of the child provided under the Children’s Act.
Application for Adoption
A person who wishes to adopt a child in Ghana may apply to the Social Welfare Department in their region by completing the prescribed form and submitting the application with the following documents:
- A medical report of the applicant
- A police clearance report of the applicant
- The applicant’s birth certificate
- Evidence of employment of the applicant or their income statement
- Commitment forms from two guardian ad litem. Guardian ad litem is a person appointed as guardian of the child and who stands in to shoulder the responsibility of the applicant in the event the applicant is unavailable
- Character references or recommendation letters from two people
- Pictures of the applicant, the applicant’s family, and their home.
- In the case of relative adoption, consent of the parent of the child as well as proof of level of consanguinity.
Home Study, Child Study, and applicant’s eligibility
On receipt and consideration of the application, the department shall commence the process by conducting a home study on the applicant and preparing a Home Study Report to the Authority. The Home Study Report must include recommendations on the eligibility and the suitability of the applicant to adopt a child. This involves screening of the home and life of the prospective adoptive parent to ensure that the child ends up in a suitable home.
The home study covers the following:
- Assessment of the parenting capacity of the applicant
- Assessment of the willingness of the applicant’s family to accept the prospective adoptive child
- Other relevant information the authority and courts consider important.
The Department must also conduct a child study on a child to be adopted and must prepare and submit a Child Study Report to the Authority. The Report must include recommendations on the adoptability of the child.
On receipt of the application and recommendation the Authority determines the eligibility and suitability of the applicant to adopt a child on the basis of the Home Study Report. The Authority also determines the adoptability of the child based on the recommendations in the Child Study Report. The Authority’s decision which must be communicated to the applicant within six weeks from the date of receipt.
Where the Authority determines that the applicant is eligible, their names are entered as a Prospective Adoptive Parent Section in the adoption register. Where the applicant is found to be ineligible, the authority shall state reasons. A dissatisfied applicant may appeal the decision to the adoption board within 28 days on receipt of the decision.
As part of preparing the Prospective Adoptive Parent (PAP) for the adoption, psycho-social services are provided to address the person’s emotional, social, mental, and other essential factors needed to enable them to decide whether adoption is the best option for them.
The service also provides advice on the required procedure and documentation as well as evaluation of the ability and potential of the PAP to satisfy the needs of the child who requires adoption including the acceptance of siblings and children with special needs if any.
As part of preparing a PAP for child placement and subsequent adoption, the Department or an authorized agency organizes training program for the applicant(s). The essence of the training is to equip applicants on the following
- Adoption, bonding, and attachment
- Upbringing of a child
- Child development issues
- Prevention of child rights violations
- Child participation in family activities and
- Any other matter that the department may consider relevant
The training which may span at least 30 hours, may be organized for groups of applicants or individual applicant after which a certificate is issued to the prospective adoptive parent on skills and knowledge acquired.
Matching and Preplacement
To ensure high probability of compatibility, the Department matches an eligible and suitable applicant with an adoptable child based on the Child Study and Home Study reports. A PAP has the option to accept or reject the match. Where a PAP does not accept the match, they must provide their reasons in writing. The Authority may conduct a rematch for the PAP with another adoptable child. Where the PAP accepts the match, the Department must arrange a meeting between the PAP and the child.
Prior to the meeting, the child who is the subject of adoption is counselled on the concept of adoption and offered the necessary support to facilitate adjustment in the new environment. The session also involves adequate introduction to the prospective adoptive parent and their way of life.
Where the meeting turns out positive, the Director of the Department shall issue a placement authorization to place the child with the applicant for a trial period of not less than one month under supervision of the Department prior to the commencement of the legal proceedings.
Consent of a child for adoption
An adoptable child must be under the supervision of an officer of the Department during the pre-adoption placement period until the adoption process is completed. The Department must consider the wishes of a child over 14 years who is capable of forming an opinion. If the child is 14 years or above, they must give their consent in the appropriate form unless they are incapable of forming an opinion.
Consent of parents in Adoption
An adoption order can only be made with the consent of both parents unless one parent is unknown, has died, or cannot be found. Where the child to be adopted is under the care of a guardian, the guardian shall consent to the adoption order. Again, the consent of any person who has any rights or obligations in respect of the child under an agreement, court order or under customary law must be obtained. Where a married person is the sole applicant, the consent of their spouse must be obtained.
Consent of a parent, guardian, or other person having rights of the child may be dispensed if
- they have neglected or persistently ill-treated the child
- they cannot be found
- they are incapable of giving consent
- they are withholding consent unreasonably
Social Enquiry Report
The Social Enquiry Report forms part of the documents prepared by the department on an adoptable child. It covers the background of the child, the present circumstance of the child, the situation which led to the issue of the care order. It also provides information on the adoption process undertaken by the prospective adoptive parent.
The Social Enquiry Report assists the court to determine whether the adoption order is in the best interest of the child. It also assists the court to satisfy itself that the prescribed procedures prior to seeking the adoption order have been followed.
Application for Adoption Order
An application for an Adoption Order is made to the High Court. The application is accompanied with a Social Enquiry Report from the Department. Before the Court makes an adoption order, it must be satisfied that all pre-adoption processes have been complied with. The Court must be satisfied that
- all consents required have been obtained and the persons giving consent understand the legal implication of the adoption on their permanent relationship with the child
- a written report on the wishes of the child on the adoption in the prescribed form has been obtained if the child is capable of forming an opinion.
- the consent of the child has been obtained in the prescribed form if the child is 14 years and over
- the child has been continuously in the care and possession of the applicant for at least 3 consecutive months preceding the date of the order
- the adoption is in the best interest of the child
The Court may impose conditions when granting an adoption order and may require the applicant to enter a bond to make provisions in respect of the child as they may consider necessary. The adoption order shall generally include
- the date and place of birth of the child
- the name, sex, and surname of the child before and after adoption
- the name, surname, address, citizenship, and occupation of the adopter
- the date of the adoption order
Post adoption process
After the adoption order has been granted by the court, the adoptive parent must obtain a new birth certificate in accordance with the order. A copy of the adoption order and the new birth certificate for the child must be submitted to the Authority. On receipt of these documents the Authority shall issue a Certificate of Conformity to the adoptive parent to certify that due process has been followed and the required documents have also been delivered to the Authority.
Upon the grant of the adoption order, the Department shall continue to monitor and report on the adoptive family every six months for the first two years and once a year for the following three years. Where a child has been adopted in-country, but the adoptive family would like to leave the country with the child to another country or permanently transfer the child out to another country, the adopter shall in writing give at least a thirty days’ notice to the Department.
Revocation of adoption order
Although the grant of an adoption order has a permanent consequence, the Court may revoke the order if it is proved that the order was obtained on the grounds of fraud, misrepresentation, and discovery of fact which if previously known would have disqualified the adoptive parent from obtaining the adoption order.
Intercountry adoption is the process by which a person or family adopts a child from a country other than their country of habitual residence. In Ghana, the process is largely tailored after The Hague Convention of 29 May 1993 on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption. Ghana became a contracting state in January 2017.
The guiding principle is that the process must be in the best interest of the child. The process is generally governed by the same Laws, Rules and Regulation under In-Country adoption. A child is eligible for inter Country adoption if the child is legally adoptable and efforts to place the child in a foster or adoptive family in the country have not been successful.
Eligibility and suitability for adoption
A person may be qualified to adopt a child from Ghana if that person
- is between the ages of 25years and 50 years or 21 years older than the adoptive child
- is declared Medically fit
- has not been convicted of a child related offence or any offence which may affect the development of the child
- is of high moral character and proven integrity
- is eligible to adopt under the national laws of that person
- is capable of providing care and support for the child
- subscribes to the basic rights of the child under the Act
- is resident in a country which is a party to the 1993 Hague Convention or a country that has a bilateral agreement with Ghana
It is required that an applicant who is married shall file the application jointly with the spouse or with the consent of the spouse in the prescribed manner. Generally, only married couples may adopt a child intercountry. A single person may adopt only if that person is a citizen of Ghana. Same-sex couples are not eligible to adopt a child intercountry as same sex marriage is not recognized under Ghanaian law.
Application for intercountry adoption
A person who wishes to adopt a child through intercountry adoption must apply to the Central Authority. The Central Authority is the Central Authority of the receiving State or the country where the applicant resides. The Central authority shall conduct a home study and determine the eligibility and suitability of the applicant to adopt a child intercountry. The Home Study Report covers screening of the home and life of the prospective adoptive parents to ensure that the child ends up in a suitable home.
Where it is determined that the applicant is suitable, the Central Authority will issue a letter of approval forwarded along with the Home Study Report to the Authority in Ghana. The Authority shall within 5 days acknowledge receipt and advise the Central Authority in the receiving state to procure and complete the application form.
The application must be made in the English Language in the appropriate from and submitted to the Authority through the Central Authority or an accredited adoption agency. The Authority shall consider the application to assess the eligibility and suitability of the applicant to adopt a child from Ghana. The application must be submitted with the following documents:
- A home study report
- A formal consent letter from the Authority of the receiving state to adopt a child from Ghana.
- A health certificate of the applicant
- A police clearance report
- Evidence of employment and income statement
- Marriage certificate or evidence of marriage, where applicable
- Copy of national identification
- Spousal consent in the case of a married person who applies solely.
- Character references or recommendation letters from two people
- A certificate of training for adoption
- Pictures of the applicant, their family and home
- Completed commitment forms from two guardians ad litem. (Guardian ad litem refers to a person appointed as guardian of the child to act on his or her behalf in the adoption process)
Matching and Preplacement
Where the Authority in Ghana is satisfied with the application received, it shall match an eligible and suitable applicant with an adoptable child based on the needs of the child and the home study report provided on the applicant. The Authority shall forward a copy of the under listed to the applicant through the Central Authority of the receiving state
- Child Study report
- Proof of consent
- Placement proposal
- Reasons for the placement of a particular child
The PAP has the option to either accept or reject the match and the latter shall be communicated in writing with reason(s) through the Central Authority. On receipt of the rejection of the match and its reasons, the authority may conduct a re-match for the applicant with another adoptable child.
Preadoption and Social Enquiry Report
Where the match is accepted and approved both by the applicant and the Authority, the child is placed with the applicant in the country for a trial period of not less than one month under supervision of the Department before the commencement of the legal proceedings in respect of the child.
This trial period can be waived where a medical board authorized by the Authority determines that the child is in need of specialized medical care outside the country. At the end of the trial period, the Department shall prepare a post placement report which shall be submitted to the Authority for clearance to apply for the adoption order.
A social enquiry report is also prepared at the end of the trial period and this shall be attached to the application for the adoption order. The content of the report includes information on the background of the child and circumstances leading to the initiation of the adoption process. The social enquiry report also provides information on whether the adoption process complied with the requisite statutory provisions.
Application for adoption Order
An application for an intercountry adoption order must be made to the High Court in accordance with relevant statutes. The application must be supported by a Social Enquiry Report from the Department and an authorization from the Director in the prescribed form.
A court may grant an interim adoption order pending a final adoption order for a child to be transferred to the receiving state. However, where the Central Authority monitoring the adoptive family forms the opinion that the continued placement of the child with the adoptive parent is not in the best interest of the child, it shall inform the authority for the child to be withdrawn or to make any order prescribed under the law.
Post intercountry adoption procedures
After the grant of the adoption order, the adoptive parent shall:
- obtain a new birth certificate for the child in accordance with the order
- submit a copy of the order as well as birth certificate of the child to the Authority
On receipt of the adoption order and the new birth certificate, the Authority shall issue to the adoptive parent a Certificate of Conformity. This certifies that due process was followed, and the required documents have been delivered to the Authority.
The adoptive parent must apply for the necessary travel documents to facilitate the transfer of the child to the Receiving State. Prior to applying for travel documents for the child, it is required of the adoptive parent to apply to the department for clearance to transfer the child out of the country.
The Central Authority shall ensure that the child is eligible to enter and reside permanently in the receiving state per their domestic immigration laws. Under no circumstances must an adoptive parent take the adopted child out of the jurisdiction without clearance from the Director.
After all processes have been completed, the Authority will enter into an agreement with the Central Authority of the receiving state to provide reports on the adoptive family. The report is transmitted to the Authority every six months during the first two years and once a year during the following three years of the adoption order.
Though, the processes provided under the different forms of adoption may seem lengthy and seemingly complex, they are quite simple and made even more so by the Children’s (Amendment) Act, 2016 (Act 937). Any person desiring to parent a child by adoption may seek the appropriate legal advice from a qualified lawyer to achieve their dream of parenthood.
It needs to be mentioned that information about the various forms of adoption processes described in this article are the summaries of the processes but sufficient in our opinion to inform any prospective applicant to understand the process of adoption in Ghana.