Malawians split over court ‘no’ to Madonna adoption (Lead)

April 4th, 2009 - 12:09 am ICT by IANS  

Madonna Lilongwe/Johannesburg, April 3 (DPA) A leading human rights group in Malawi Friday welcomed a court’s decision to turn down an application from US pop star Madonna to adopt a second child from the southern African country.
In a surprise move, the High Court in Malawi’s capital Lilongwe turned down Madonna’s application for an interim 18-month custody order for four-year-old Chifundo (Mercy) James, three years after she was given custody of Malawi-born infant David Banda.

Judge Esmie Chombo told Madonna could not adopt four-year-old Mercy James because she has not been resident in Malawi for 18 months as required by the law.

The law on inter-country adoption stipulates that a person be resident in Malawi for 18 months before adopting.

Nelson Magombo, an official in the information ministry told DPA, that the decision went against Madonna because Madonna is a single mother. She and British filmmaker Guy Ritchie divorced last year.

Undule Mwaksungula, chairman of Malawi’s Human Rights Consultative Committee (HRCC), a network of NGOs that had lobbied against both adoptions, said he had also been informed that her marital status had been a factor.

“We are very happy. I think it’s the right decision, the right ruling,” Mwaksungula said. “I don’t think the welfare of Malawian children can be solved by inter-country adoptions,” he said.

The HRCC has consistently maintained that the country’s adoption laws are too weak and prone to manipulation and is pushing for new legislation to protect children’s rights.

Malawi’s adoption laws require that prospective adoptive parents be resident in the country for 18-24 months beforehand, a condition Madonna did not meet.

The government had waived the residency requirement in granting Ritchie and the 50-year-old star custody of David in 2006, when he was just 13 months. The High Court had confirmed her adoption of David last year.

The ruling is a blow to Madonna’s attempts to have a sister for David from his country. She also has two biological children. It was not clear whether she would appeal the ruling to a higher court.

In an interview with a local newspaper in March, Madonna had said she would only adopt another child if the population and government supported it - support she appeared to have.

Madonna met the little girl two years ago in the same Home of Hope orphanage in central Malawi where she met David but the child lived at another orphanage at Tikondane Orphanage in southern Malawi.

The judge said she was well cared for there.

David’s adoption was shrouded in controversy after it emerged that David’s father was still alive, even though he agreed to the adoption. Some critics said Madonna should have supported the family financially so that David could remain in Malawi.

Mercy’s father was reported in local media to have been absent from birth. The extended family had been reportedly divided over whether Madonna should adopt her.

But Malawian government officials and most people in the extremely poor country had supported Madonna’s bid to give another of the country’s around one million orphans a better life.

Ireen Phiri, a mother of two in Blantyre, Malawi’s commercial capital, lamented Mercy missing out on what she called a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity”.

Nearly half of the population of 13 million lives on less than a $1 a day. The UN children’s agency Unicef estimates half of the orphans have lost one or both parents to HIV/AIDS.

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