Parents everywhere are falling out with their children every day. Most times, they succeed in patching things up, but in some cases, reconciliation is difficult to achieve and a child may find himself “disowned” by his own parents. This experience can prove painful for all parties involved, but more especially for the child who may suffer psychological complications as a result of the extreme rejection that this singular action implies.
An important question, however, is, what is the legal implication of disowning a child in Nigeria?
Defined by Section 277 of Child Rights Act to mean “a person under the age of 18 years”, a child who is legitimately born into a family is a part of that family. Per Salami in Anka v Lokoja (2001) 16 WRN 11 held that “all heirs or princes are members of a family.
Thus, section 14(1) of Child Rights Act provides that “Every child has a right to parental care and protection and accordingly, no child shall be separated from his parents against his wish”.
The practise of disowning a legitimate child is a glaring attempt to severe the child from its biological parents. This is a practice that is neither known to nor recognised by our law, and any custom which supports such practice clearly runs against the express provisions of the law as well as being repugnant to public policy.
A parent is entrusted the care and upbringing of his child by the law and it is even punishable for a parent to fail to provide the basic and essential needs of his child. This makes the responsibility to care for a child an imposition of the law, an obligation which cannot not be shirked by a mere pronouncement of the disownment. See Section 14(1) of Child’s Right Act.
Where a parent decides to go against the clear provisions of the Child Rights Act/Laws and disowns his biological child, this child can proceed against the parents both in criminal and civil proceedings. Thus such a child may make a formal complaint against the parent either to a Development Officer, Police Officer or any Person nominated by the Minister or Commissioner, who may bring the child to court, and if there is reasonable ground to believe that the child has been deprived of parental care, the court may order the parent to enter into recognisance to exercise proper care and guidance over the child. Section 54 of Child’s Right Act.
The protection of the law equally extends to children who are totally disinherited by their parents to get some financial protection. Agreed that a testator has a free depository right to give his properties to any person he desires and may even deprive any of his blood relation (Banks v Good Fellow (1870) QB 544). However, where no provision is made in a will for a child who is a dependant of the testator, such child in some jurisdictions like Lagos, Abia and Oyo, Kaduna, etc can make an application to the court for financial provision.
The nature of the law on this issue is that it seeks to reinforce the importance of parental care and provision to children. This stand of the law of course makes sense seeing that no child is born by his own consent and it is the least the law and the society can do to ensure that those responsible for bringing such child to life are not allowed to abandon this primary duty of seeing him through at least the early stages.
It is imperative that parents commit more time and resources to their children’s upbringing and implore every means necessary in seeing to the development of each child. This is preferable to disowning them.
Ikechukwu Nwakanma Esq Is A Nigerian Lawyer