Madonna appeals against Malawi adoption ruling

Madonna renews bid to adopt second child from Malawi after judge rejects application

Alex Duval Smith and Mark Tran
The Guardian
Friday 3 April 2009

Madonna has appealed against a court ruling preventing her from adopting a second child from Malawi, her lawyer said today.

"I just filed the notice of appeal this afternoon on instructions from my client," Alan Chinula told Reuters.

Earlier, a Malawian court ruled that Madonna may not adopt three-year-old Chifundo "Mercy" James because of a requirement that prospective parents live in the country for 18 to 24 months. The judge said that allowing Madonna to circumvent the rules would leave children vulnerable to trafficking.

"There's a gripping temptation to throw caution to the wind and grant an adoption in the hope that there will be a difference in the life of just one child," Judge Esme Chombo said after the closed-door hearing in Lilongwe. "By removing the very safeguard that is supposed to protect our children, the courts by their pronouncements could actually facilitate trafficking of children by some unscrupulous individuals ... I must have to decline to grant the application to Madonna."

Had the court approved the 50-year-old's request, she would have been expected to return to the US with the girl tomorrow.

Malawi's child welfare minister had backed the singer's latest adoption proposal but, as when she adopted a 13-month-old boy in 2006, critics accused Madonna of using her fame and money to win favourable treatment.

Madonna ? who was not in court for today's ruling ? has said she followed standard procedures.

"We have close to 2 million orphans in Malawi who need help," the country's women and child welfare development minister, Anna Kachikho, said yesterday. "We can't look after all of them as a country. If people like Madonna adopt even one such orphan, it's one mouth less we have to feed."

The rules requiring that prospective parents be resident in the country for 18 to 24 months enable officials to assess their suitability.

But three years ago, Madonna was allowed to take her adopted son, David, to London before his adoption was finalised, amid much controversy.

It was unclear why Judge Esme Chombo had ruled differently today, although another judge had handled Madonna's previous adoption case.

The singer had promised to make Chifundo a permanent part of her family and spare her the "hardship" of life as an orphan.

"I am able and willing to securely provide for Chifundo James and make her a permanent and established member of my family," she said.

"To deny Chifundo James the opportunity to be adopted by me could expose her to hardship and emotional trauma which is otherwise avoidable."

About two dozen bystanders who had gathered in the gardens of the high court expressed their disappointment at the ruling.

"Madonna is doing a lot for our country," Elton Tewesa, an off-duty police officer, said. "The orphanage that David came from used to be so rough and now it has new buildings, a play area and toys.".

Charles Nyierenda, a supermarket worker, echoed the feelings of many Malawians who argue that the country needs all the adoptive parents it can get. "That child has no parents anyway," he said. "There is a grandmother, that's all. Madonna was going to give her the chance of her life. Now that the judges have turned down the application, she may turn her back on Malawi."

However, opponents of the singer's application reacted with delight and some surprise.

Mavuto Bamusi, chief executive of Malawi's human rights consultative committee, said: "We do not object to Madonna. We are grateful for her work in Malawi. But we were very concerned that, first in the case of David, and now with the second child, a precedent would be set, allowing adoptive parents to escape the requirement of 18 months' residency.

"We are delighted that the courts have upheld the law of the land ? weak as it is ? and avoided setting an example that would have opened the floodgates for people to come and take children from Malawi."

Chifundo's 18-year-old mother was unmarried and died soon after giving birth, according to the child's uncle, John Ngalande. The child's father is believed to be alive but has little contact with his daughter, he said.

Supporters of the adoption have said it would give Chifundo opportunities she would not receive in Malawi, where 14% of adults are infected with the HIV virus.

But the human rights consultative committee, a coalition of non-governmental organisations, said adoption should be the last resort and that children needed to be looked after by their own family.

"Mercy James is a child who has her extended close family members alive, and we urge Madonna to assist the child from right here," a statement from the coalition, released earlier this week, said.

Save the Children said most children in orphanages had one living parent, or an extended family, who could take care of them. In these cases, international adoption could exacerbate the problem by encouraging poor parents to give up their children in the hope of a better life for them, the charity said in a statement.

Jane Moyo, an ActionAid spokeswoman, said: "We do not doubt Madonna's good intentions. But, if at all possible, a child should remain in their own family and community."

Madonna, who recently split from the British film-maker Guy Ritchie, has two children in addition to David ? Lourdes, 12, and eight-year-old Rocco.

Lourdes and David flew to Malawi with her by private jet on Sunday. They visited the village of Chikhota, near Lilongwe, where she is planning to build a school. David also saw his biological father for the first time since he left Malawi.

Issues of importance

I find this whole appeal to adopt very disturbing for three reasons.

  1. It's wrong to encourage others to visit an orphanage, choose a child and then have that child shipped to the new home as if it were a souvenir from some specialty store discovered during an exotic holiday.  [See:  Boy to be adopted by Madonna leaves for London
  2. Reports indicate the so-called orphan girl does indeed have a father (just like David did and still does.)   [See: Here's a new twist: Truth or Tabloid? ] What message will it send others that children can be traded, like a bag of goods, just because there are those who want to adopt children from poor countries? 
  3. If this adoption is allowed, it will only encourage others to buy and sell children to foreigners through orphanages and agencies.  [Keeping in mind, of course, not all children in orphanages ARE orphans!!]

I hope those involved in this case are aware how other parts of the world see "adoption" and how it's being used to bring wealth and "greater opportunities" to so many.   [See: A new spin to the old-style of celebrity adoptions? ]

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