Malawi judge delays decision on rights groups’ challenge to Madonna adoption

A MALAWI judge has postponed for a week a decision on whether human rights groups can challenge pop star Madonna’s bid to adopt a baby boy from the impoverished southern African country.

A 67-strong coalition of rights groups had lodged a petition before the high court in the administrative capital Lilongwe, claiming existing legislation did not allow for inter-country adoptions and asking for the right to bring a full-fledged appeal at a later hearing.

However, Judge Andrew Nyirenda decided to reserve his ruling for another seven days after the government-sponsored human rights commission also submitted an application for a hearing, lawyers said.

“The judge would like to consider the two applicants jointly,” Justin Dzodzi, the lawyer for the coalition known as the Human Rights Consultative Committee, told reporters.

“Our interest is to assist the court because we want the court to address issues of inter-country adoption and we think the court will benefit a lot from our arguments,” he added.

The granting of an 18-month interim custody order last month, which enabled Madonna to take David Banda out of Malawi, sparked heated debate about adoption laws in a country where the number of orphans is surging as a result of AIDS.

The 14-month-old baby, whose mother died shortly after his birth, is living with Madonna and her filmmaker husband Guy Ritchie at their home in London even though would-be adoptive parents are usually subject to an 18-month monitoring period by social workers in Malawi.

Madonna has denied using her vast wealth to fast-track the process while David’s father Yohane has called on the coalition to drop their action over fear that the singer will return him to a life of poverty back home.

Mr Dzodzi said the court action was not aimed specifically at blocking David’s adoption but rather to clarify the existing legislation.

“We are not entirely challenging the adoption of David by Madonna but we want the court to address the issues raised by his adoption,” he said.

Madonna’s lawyer, who confirmed that the next hearing of the court would be on November 20, said he would be in a position to respond to the issues raised in the hearing later this week.

“I will respond to the court by Wednesday of this week on the arguments pushed by the human rights commission,” Allan Chinula told reporters.

If Judge Nyirenda does allow the rights groups and the human rights commission to proceed with their arguments, lawyers for both sides are unlikely to get their chance to present their case in detail until 2007.

“If the two parties are allowed to proceed with the adoption case, substantive proceedings may begin next year,” said Mr Dzodzi.

Titus Mvalo, who had been signed up as a lawyer for the rights group, withdrew, saying while he would like a judge to pronounce on the legality of intra-country adoptions, he feared his motives could be misrepresented.

“I see a likelihood of being misunderstood,” he said.

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