Sierra LeoneLast Updated: April 2010
Hague Adoption Convention Country?NO
- Hague Convention Information
Sierra Leone is not party to the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption (Hague Adoption Convention). Therefore, when the Hague Adoption Convention entered into force for the United States on April 1, 2008, intercountry adoption processing for Sierra Leone did not change.
- Who Can Adopt
To bring an adopted child to United States from Sierra Leone, you must be found eligible to be an adoptive parent by the U.S. Government. The U.S. Government agency responsible for making this determination is the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Read more on Who Can Adopt.
In addition to these U.S. requirements for prospective adoptive parents, Sierra Leone also has the following eligibility requirements for prospective adoptive parents:
- RESIDENCY REQUIREMENTS: Under Sierra Leonean law, adoptive parents are currently required to be resident in Sierra Leone for six months and to attend the court hearing for the adoption. Although in the past the High Court of Sierra Leone would sometimes waive either the personal appearance of prospective adoptive parents at adoption proceedings or the six-month residency requirement, this was always at the Court's discretion and should not be considered the norm. The High Court is currently reviewing its application of the Adoption Act and practices may change without notice.
- AGE REQUIREMENTS: Unless related to the child, one of the adoptive parents must be at least twenty-five years old and twenty-one years older than the child. A relative of the child need only be twenty-one years old. Sierra Leonean law allows adoption by a father or mother (either alone or jointly with a spouse), and has no age requirement at all in this case.
- MARRIAGE REQUIREMENTS: A single male may not adopt a child unless there are exceptional circumstances or the child is a son of the prospective adoptive father, Only married couples may adopt jointly.
- Who Can Be Adopted
Sierra Leone has specific requirements that a child must meet in order to be eligible for adoption. You cannot adopt a child in Sierra Leone unless he or she meets the requirements outlined below.
In addition to these requirements, a child must meet the definition of an orphan under U.S. law for you to bring him or her home back to the United States. Find out more on Who Can be Adopted and these U.S. requirements.
The High Court may require the written consent by the biological parents. If the child was born in wedlock, the consent of both parents may be required. If the child was not born in wedlock, only the mother must consent. Birth parents who have granted consent to the adoption may withdraw their consent at any point during the adoption proceedings, with the High Court's permission.
The High Court will not require the consent of the biological parents if those parents have legally abandoned the child, if a Sierra Leonean Governmental or judicial authority has terminated their parental rights or appointed a different legal guardian for the children, or if the parents are deceased. Birth parents who have granted consent to the adoption may withdraw their consent at any point during the adoption proceedings, with the High Court's permission.
The child must be under 17 years old. If the child is 16 years of age or older, only the child must consent to the adoption. Note: U.S. immigration law requires an orphan be under the age of 16 at the time of the adoption in order to be eligible for an immigrant visa. A child can be 16 or 17 if adopted with younger siblings and will be eligible for an immigrant visa.
- How To Adopt
Sierra Leone Adoption Authority
Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender & Children's Affairs
The process for adopting a child from Sierra Leone generally includes the following steps:
- Choose an Adoption Service Provider
- Apply to be Found Eligible to Adopt
- Be Matched with a Child
- Adopt the Child in Sierra Leone
- Apply for the Child to be Found Eligible for Adoption
- Bringing Your Child Home
Choose an Adoption Service Provider
The first step in adopting a child from Sierra Leone is usually to select an agency or attorney in the United States that can help with your adoption. Adoption service providers must be licensed by the U.S. state in which they operate. Learn more about choosing the right Adoption Service Provider.
The U.S. Embassy in Freetown maintains a list of local attorneys which is available upon request. There are no registered adoption agencies in Sierra Leone. There are organizations registered as non-Governmental organizations (NGOs) or private voluntary organizations (PVOs) that provide assistance to children and facilitate international adoptions. While the Government of Sierra Leone does not have a list of registered NGOs or PVOs, your adoption agency should be able to provide you with copies of a local organization's registration certificates. The U.S. Embassy cannot recommend the services of any specific attorney or organization.
Prospective adoptive parents are advised to fully research any adoption agency or facilitator they plan to use for adoption services. For U.S.-based agencies, it is suggested that prospective adoptive parents contact the Better Business Bureau and/or the licensing office of the appropriate state Government agency in the U.S. state where the agency is located or licensed.
Apply to be Found Eligible to Adopt
To bring an adopted child from Sierra Leone to the United States, you must apply to be found eligible to adopt (Form I-600A) by the U.S. Government, Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Read more about Eligibility Requirements.
In addition to meeting the U.S. requirements for adoptive parents, you need to meet the country's requirements as described in the Who Can Adopt section.
Be Matched with a Child
If you are eligible to adopt, and a child is available for intercountry adoption, the central adoption authority will provide you with a referral to a child. The child must meet the country's eligibility requirements for adoptable children, as described in the Who Can be Adopted section. The child must also meet the definition of an orphan under U.S. law.
Adopt the Child (or Gain Legal Custody) in Sierra Leone
The process for finalizing the adoption (or gaining legal custody) in Sierra Leone generally includes the following:
- Role of The Adoption Authority: The Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children's Affairs is the Government office responsible for overseeing adoptions and child welfare issues in Sierra Leone. To initiate an adoption, an attorney in Sierra Leone sends a letter with relevant documents attached to the Social Development Officer in the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children's Affairs in Freetown.
- Role of The Court: The High Court is the only authority in Sierra Leone that can issue an order granting an adoption or legal custody of minor children. After the Social Development Officer approves the prospective adoption the attorney files a petition for adoption with the High Court of the Sierra Leone. The High Court may order an investigation by an investigator appointed by the Court. The investigator should file a written report of the investigation with the High Court within 30 days of issuance of the investigation order. The High Court will schedule a hearing after these steps are completed to the court's satisfaction. The High Court currently requires at least one prospect adopting parent and the adoptive children to attend the hearing. The High Court may waive the appearance of the child for good cause and will usually state this in the order of adoption. The High Court may require the biological parents to appear in court to confirm sworn statements or affidavits. All hearings are confidential and held in closed court. The High Court must be satisfied that the "moral and temporal interests" of the child will be served by the adoption. While the High Court usually makes a ruling after one hearing, in some cases it will request additional documentation and/or investigation and schedule another hearing. If the High Court approves the adoption, it will issue a court order that either grants a full and final adoption, or authorizes the leave to adopt. There are no fixed time-lines or constraints on the High Court's processing of adoptions.
Role of Adoption Agencies: There are no registered adoption agencies in Sierra Leone. The U.S. Embassy in Freetown maintains a list of local attorneys which is available upon request. The U.S. Embassy cannot recommend the services of any specific attorney or organization.
- Adoption Application: Most prospective adoptive parents work through an adoption agency in the U.S., which in turn maintains a relationship with an orphanage or organization in Sierra Leone, throughout the adoption process. Adoptive parents who do not want to go through a local organization are advised to hire an attorney to assist with the adoption application and process.
- Time Frame: There are no fixed time lines or constraints on the Court's processing of adoptions. In the past, U.S. prospective adoptive parents have taken between six months to two years to complete the adoption procedures.
- Adoption Fees: Official Government fees associated with adoptions in Sierra Leone are minimal and consist mainly of court filing costs. Such filing fees normally are less than U.S. $10. The cost of employing local counsel varies, but prospective adoptive parents can expect to pay several hundred dollars at a minimum for an attorney. Some adoption agencies charge prospective adoptive parents monthly maintenance fees that can be several hundred dollars per month. While monthly maintenance fees are legal in Sierra Leone, it appears that some local orphanages may have delayed adoption proceedings in order to continue payments of maintenance fees longer than necessary.
- Documents Required: The following documents are required for adoption in Sierra Leone:
- Petition for Adoption
- Written consent of living biological parents
- Affidavits concerning the prospective adoptive parents
- Marriage certificate if appropriate
- Evidence of finances such as bank statements and job letters
Apply for the Child to be Found Eligible for Adoption
After you finalize the adoption (or gain legal custody), you will apply to the U.S Government, Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for permission to bring the child home to the United States. USCIS will determine whether the child is eligible under U.S. law to be adopted. Visit USCIS website for more information.
Because of the high incidence of fraud in Sierra Leone adoption cases, Embassy Freetown conducts a field investigation to confirm a child's status as an orphan under U.S. law. The field investigation will be conducted only after we have either (a) received an approved I-600 petition from the USCIS, or (b) have accepted an I-600 petition filed by the adopting parent(s) at the Embassy. Field investigations usually take between 2 to 4 months, depending on the availability and location of witnesses required to confirm evidence of orphan status. Upon receipt of the final results of the field investigation, we will notify the adopting parents and provide instructions on how to proceed.
Prior to completing an adoption in Sierra Leone, prospective adoptive parents should request that the U.S. adoption agency or Sierra Leonean orphanage that has identified the child as potentially adoptable provide clear evidence that the child is likely to meet the INA definition of "orphan." Adoption agencies and orphanages should be able to provide the following items for each child being offered as available for adoption:
- A copy of the child's official intake form completed at the time the child was brought to the orphanage. The intake form should indicate the circumstances under which the child was brought to the orphanage and any actions taken to confirm the facts.
- A copy of the child's birth certificate.
- A copy of a death certificate for any parent who has died.
- If the child has a sole or surviving parent, a copy of the statement the biological parent made at the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children's Affairs irrevocably relinquishing parental rights.
- If a parent has abandoned a child or disappeared, copies of the police report, the report by Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children's Affairs detailing efforts to locate the parent and severing parental ties to the missing parent, and/or a court order making the child a ward of the state.
- In Sierra Leone it appears that the only way a sole or surviving parent can irrevocably relinquish his or her parental rights to his or her child is at the Ministry of Social Welfare in the presence of either the Minister and/or the Chief Social Development Officer. Also, there does not appear to be any adoption agency or orphanage in Sierra Leone that is authorized under the child welfare laws of Sierra Leone to take the relinquishment or release of a child who has been abandoned by his or her birth parents.
Bringing Your Child Home
Now that your adoption is complete (or you have obtained legal custody of the child), there are a few more steps to take before you can head home. Specifically, you need to apply for three documents for your child before he or she can travel to the United States:
You will first need to apply for a new birth certificate for your child, so that you can later apply for a passport. Your name will be added to the new birth certificate.
Sierra Leone Passport
Your child is not yet a U.S. citizen, so he/she will need a travel document or Passport from Sierra Leone.
U.S. Immigrant Visa
After you obtain the new birth certificate and passport for your child, you also need to apply for an U.S. visa from the United States Embassy for your child.
Once the U.S. Embassy in Freetown has confirmed the adopted child's status as an orphan, a consular officer will contact the adopting parent(s) in order to schedule an appointment to process the child's immigrant visa.
The adopted child must be physically present at the U.S. Embassy in Freetown at the time of the visa interview.
Child Citizenship Act
For adoptions finalized abroad: The Child Citizenship Act of 2000 allows your new child to acquire American citizenship automatically when he or she enters the United States as lawful permanent residents.
For adoptions finalized in the United States: The Child Citizenship Act of 2000 allows your new child to acquire American citizenship automatically when the court in the United States issues the final adoption decree.
*Please be aware that if your child did not qualify to become a citizen upon entry to the United States, it is very important that you take the steps necessary so that your child does qualify as soon as possible. Failure to obtain citizenship for your child can impact many areas of his/her life including family travel, eligibility for education and education grants, and voting.
Read more about the Child Citizenship Act of 2000.
- Traveling Abroad
Applying for Your U.S. Passport
A valid U.S. passport is required to enter and leave Sierra Leone. Only the U.S. Department of State has the authority to grant, issue, or verify U.S. passports.
Getting or renewing a passport is easy. The Passport Application Wizard will help you determine which Passport form you need, help you to complete the form online, estimate your payment, and generate the form for you to print-all in one place.
Obtaining Your Visa
In addition to a U.S. passport, you may also need to obtain a visa from Sierra Leone. A visa is an official document issued by a foreign country that formally allows you to visit. Where required, visas are attached to your passport and allow you to enter a foreign nation.
To find information about obtaining a visa for Sierra Leone, see the Department of State's Country Specific Information.
Staying Safe on Your Trip
Before you travel, it's always a good practice to investigate the local conditions, laws, political landscape, and culture of the country. The State Department is a good place to start.
The Department of State provides Country Specific Information for every country of the world about various issues, including the health conditions, crime, unusual currency or entry requirements, and any areas of instability.
Staying in Touch on Your Trip
When traveling during the adoption process, we encourage you to register your trip with the Department of State. Travel registration makes it possible to contact you if necessary. Whether there's a family emergency in the United States, or a crisis in Sierra Leone, registration assists the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in reaching you.
Registration is free and can be done online.
- After Adoption
What does Sierra Leone require of the adoptive parents after the adoption?
We strongly urge you to comply with any post-adoption requirements Sierra Leone may require and complete all post-adoption requirements in a timely manner. Your adoption agency may be able to help you with this process. Your cooperation will contribute to Sierra Leone's history of positive experiences with American parents.
What resources are available to assist families after the adoption?
Many adoptive parents find it important to find support after the adoption. Take advantage of all the resources available to your family -- whether it's another adoptive family, a support group, an advocacy organization, or your religious or community services.
Here are some good places to start your support group search:
Note: Inclusion of non-U.S. Government links does not imply endorsement of contents.
- Contact Information
2160 Freetown Place
Washington, DC 20521-2160
International Mailing Address:
P O Box 50
Freetown, Sierra Leone
Freetown, Sierra Leone
Tel: (232) 22 515 000 or (232) 76 515 000
Fax: (232) 22 515 355
Sierra Leone's Adoption Authority
Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender & Children's Affairs
New England, Freetown
Tel: (232) 22 241 256
Embassy of Sierra Leone
1701 19th Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20009
Telephone: (202) 939-9261
Fax: (202) 483-1793
Office of Children's Issues
U.S. Department of State
SA-17, 9th Floor
Washington, DC 20522-1709
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)
For questions about immigration procedures, call the National Customer Service Center (NCSC)
1-800-375-5283 (TTY 1-800-767-1833)