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Madonna Fuels Rise in Illegal Orphanages


LILONGWE (MALAWI) - Madonna is planning to adopt a second baby from Malawi and now the pop diva wants to take in a baby girl to be a little sister to her biological children, Lourdes, (10), and Rocco (6), and adopted 14-month old baby David Banda.

Madonna who has an orphanage project operating in Malawi called Raising Malawi which funds six orphanages catering for over 4,000 orphans. She demonstrated her goodwill gesture by adopting David while it is believed her original plans were to adopt a baby girl named Jessica Kondanani who a British Magazine, Closer, reported to have caused a tag of war with an Australian family of Angela and John Wilmot who were in the process of adopting the 18-month girl.

The adoption of David caused a world wide furore drawing mixed reactions from the public. But Madonna received support from the Malawi president Bingu Wa Muthalika who supported her gesture. Other support came from among others a British actress Emma Thompson who praised Madonna for adopting Malawian baby David Banda. The Sense And Sensibility star has seen the plight of Malawi's children orphaned by AIDS first hand after becoming involved in charity work in the African country. Shocked by the suffering she saw, in 2003 Thompson also welcomed an African orphan - 16-year-old Tindy - into her home after meeting the Rwandan refugee in London. And the 47-year-old is convinced Madonna has made the right decision, despite taking David away from his native country and culture.

'Malawi is a very difficult country, with tremendous problems with AIDS. While I understand the arguments about taking people away from their culture, there is a culture of deprivation and poverty that is not fun to be part of. She found a child in desperate need. Some people want to bring up a child personally, others want to act in a more general way, but both ways are surely to be welcomed.' She said.

There are over a million orphans in Malawi, half of whom have lost one or both parents to AIDS, according to the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), but only 15 out of almost a thousand orphanages are registered with the Ministry of Women and Child Development. 

"Normally, we do not support orphanages but the problem we have is poverty as a result of pressure on families due to the AIDS epidemic. The extended family system is still there, otherwise the situation would have been very bad ... Government has no option but to allow people to open orphanages where they can take care of children," said Penson Kilembe, Director of Social Welfare in the Ministry of Women and Child Development. 

"However, this does not mean that the extended family system is falling apart or disintegrating. If this were the case then we would have many children in the streets or in the orphanage homes. Government is allowing people to open these centres because it is the only last resort to deal with the problem." 

The extended family system is a strong tradition in the Southern African country, but almost half the population struggles to live on less than US$1 a day, HIV/AIDS affects nearly a million of Malawi's 12 million people, including 83,000 children, and nearly a third of infected mothers pass the virus to their babies. 

James Amidu, 12, who lives in the capital, Lilongwe, lost his father two years ago. "We are three of us and our mother is married to another man, but he is not taking care of us. Instead, we are going around begging and sometimes we spend time at a social rehabilitation centre [run by the Ministry of Women and Child Development] in Lilongwe. It is a hard life and it is tough." 

Kilembe believed the number of orphans would decline as the grip of HIV/AIDS on the country eased, and pointed out that the government lacked capacity to monitor the proliferation of orphanages. "Government has not failed to inspect these centres. We know there are a number of them that are not registered, and the minister has powers to close them down once we discover that they are not registered, as required by law." 

The government's seeming reluctance to take action against illegal orphanages is also influenced by the lack of a solution to the expanding problem. "But then it is not just a question of closing them [illegal orphanages] down - we will have to find an alternative to deal with these children once the centre is closed," said Kilembe, who dismissed allegations that lack of proper monitoring could put children's lives at risk. 

An official in the ministry said that there were a number of problematic centres. In some, the children ate one meal a day, and "whenever donations of clothes come for children, the managers at the centres sell them. In most cases they do not even want government officials visiting the places, not even the media". 

Orphanages are not an ideal place for a parentless child, who should rather live with extended family members, said Samson Matewere, Executive Director of Eye of the Child, a children's rights advocacy group also supporting the legal challenge against Madonna's adoption of baby David. "However, due to poverty levels and the AIDS pandemic, there is too much pressure on the families - many cannot afford to take care of the children who have been orphaned. The other problem is that many families are poor, and they would rather leave the care of children to orphanages than take the responsibility themselves." 

2006 Nov 30