Madonna can't bend adoption rules, says judge

A judge today rejected Madonna’s request to adopt a second child from Malawi and said it would set a dangerous precedent to bend rules requiring that prospective parents live in the country for some period.

The country’s child welfare minister had come out yesterday in support of the pop superstar’s application to adopt three-year-old Chifundo “Mercy” James.

But in a lengthy ruling today, Judge Esme Chombo sided with critics who have said exceptions should not be made for the star who has set up a major development project for this impoverished, Aids-stricken southern African country.

Madonna can appeal against the decision to Malawi’s Supreme Court.

There was no immediate comment from Madonna or her spokeswoman in New York.

Judge Chombo said other foreigners had adopted children from Malawi, but the only case in which residency rules had been waived was to allow Madonna to take David Banda out of the country in 2006 before that adoption was finalised in 2008.

“It is necessary that we look beyond the petitioner ... and consider the consequences of opening the doors too wide,” the judge said.

“By removing the very safeguard that is supposed to protect our children, the courts ... could actually facilitate trafficking of children by some unscrupulous individuals.”

The judge made clear she was not questioning Madonna’s intentions, and even praised the “noble” work Madonna’s charity has done to feed, educate and provide medical care for some of the more than 1 million orphans in this impoverished, Aids-stricken country.

The judge said it was “my prayer” that the girl whom Madonna wants to adopt would benefit from such programmes but said Mercy was now receiving “suitable” care in an orphanage.

Judge Chombo said that contrasted with David’s situation in 2006, when an orphanage was preparing to return the boy to his father, who had said he was struggling to care for him.

Madonna’s efforts to adopt had drawn criticism from some activists, who said the little girl would be best off with relatives. Other residents credited her with giving the girl opportunities not widely available in the impoverished nation.

In court papers made public Friday, Madonna said Chifundo’s grandmother was unable to care for her.

“I am able and willing to securely provide for Chifundo James and make her a permanent and established member of my family,” Madonna said in the affidavit. “To deny Chifundo James the opportunity to be adopted by me could expose her to hardship and emotional trauma which is otherwise avoidable.”

The girl’s mother, according to the affidavit, died at age 14 not long after her baby was born January 22, 2006. There was no mention of the father in the affidavit. The mother’s brother is listed as having consented to the adoption.

Malawi’s child welfare minister had endorsed Madonna’s adoption application.

“We have close to 2 million orphans in Malawi who need help,” Women and Child Welfare Development Minister Anna Kachikho told The Associated Press. “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.”

Orphans usually are taken in by their extended families in Africa, but Aids and other diseases have taken a toll on those who might have traditionally provided support. In villages across the continent, frail elderly grandmothers do their best to care for children, but many end up in orphanages or on the streets.

Malawi, with a population of 12 million, is among the poorest countries in the world, with rampant disease and hunger, aggravated by periodic droughts and crop failure.

The UN says 1 million Malawian children have lost one or both parents, about half of them to Aids, and estimates 18 million African children will have lost a parent to Aids by 2010.

But critics accused Madonna of using her fame and money to fast-track the adoption process, but the singer said she had followed standard procedures. She faced similar allegations in 2006 when she brought home David, who is now three.

A coalition of non-governmental organisations called the Human Rights Consultative Committee had criticised Madonna’s adoption attempts, saying that adoption should be the last resort and that children need to be taken care of 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,” the coalition said earlier this week.

Madonna first travelled to Malawi in 2006 while filming a documentary on the devastating poverty and Aids crisis. On this trip, she has been accompanied by her three children; three-year-old David, 12-year-old daughter Lourdes and eight-year-old son Rocco.

The four have visited an orphanage where David once lived and David also saw his biological father for the first time since he left Malawi in 2006.

Madonna and Lourdes also visited a village in Malawi this week and looked over plans to build a new school there. The singer has several charity projects in Malawi.

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