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Activists try to block child's legal adoption by Madonna


Rosemary Bennett

MADONNA'S hopes of soon being united with the boy she planned to adopt were fading last night after a human rights group in Malawi began an appeal to stop the child leaving the country with her.

The pop star flew back to London yesterday without the one-year-old boy, David Banda, but with a promise from Malawi that it would try to allow the child to leave as soon as possible.

The 48-year-old singer won custody of the child at the end of a whirlwind tour of orphanages in Malawi, having initially denied that she intended to adopt a local child.

She had hoped to leave with David, but officials said that the immigration department was still processing his passport.

However, Eye of the Child, Malawi's main children's rights group, has now appealed to the government, asking for the adoption to be delayed until a new law has been passed giving adopted children formal legal rights.

It is illegal for foreign nationals to adopt a Malawi child. Madonna has been granted an interim order and special waiver allowing her to circumvent the law.

"We submitted an appeal to the Ministry of Women and Child Development to delay the implementation of the interim order. We want to give them time to pass an act making inter-country adoption legal and setting out the framework and rights for the adopted children," Maxwell Madewere, executive director of Eye of the Child, said.

"At the moment children have no rights under Malawi law. Today it is a celebrity adopting a child. Tomorrow it may be a trafficker seeking to adopt."

Another human rights group, the Civil Liberties Committee, has backed the appeal.

Children's rights groups have statutory power under Malawi's Bill of Rights to advise the government, so their request has to be seriously considered.

Aid agencies have criticised Madonna's decision to adopt the child, saying only in "dire circumstances" should young children be taken away from their local communities.

Malawian officials said they expected Banda to visit and spend time with Madonna, who has homes in the US and Britain, while waiting for a hearing on the application, which could take up to two years.

Malawian embassy officials will monitor how the child relates to his new environment during that time and write reports that will form the basis of a Malawian court's decision on the adoption, according to a government official.

The news that Banda, who has spent most of his life in the dilapidated Home of Hope Orphan Center near the Zambian border, could be heading for a new life overseas was seen as a blessing at the orphanage and in surrounding villages.

The child faced a bleak future in his birthplace, the tiny and isolated village of Lipunga, after his mother died and his father could not support him.

"If we didn't send Davie away to the orphanage we probably would have buried him before too long," said Henderson Geza Dyedyereke, the chief of Lipunga, after confirming this week that Banda was being adopted by Madonna, who already has a son and a daughter. (© The Times, London)

- Rosemary Bennett

2006 Oct 14