On Tuesday, Malawi’s High Court granted 58-year-old US singer and pop icon, Madonna, permission to adopt the four-year-old twin girls from Malawi, following her adoption in 2006 and 2009 of two other children, David Banda and Mercy James.
“We are really putting our children in a big danger,” said Maxwell Matewere, who heads Eye of the Child, a children’s advocacy charity in Malawi. “Madonna’s act definitely would facilitate trafficking of children though encouraging more adoption.”
“Most of the adoption cases that have been allowed by social welfare and the high court have been questionable in terms of the processes,” he said.
Inter-country adoption is a type of adoption in which an individual becomes the legal parent of a child who is a citizen of a different country. The prospective adoptive parents must meet the legal adoption requirements of their country of residence and those of the country whose nationality the child holds. Adoption laws vary based on the country from which a person wants to adopt. These laws can include criteria about age, income, marital stability, and the number of children a person already has.
Inter-country adoption has come under scrutiny in recent years as demand for children – be it for sex, labour, or rituals – has fuelled trafficking and the creation of unregistered orphanages that facilitate adoption. Critics argue the hunger to adopt children from developing nations helps feed nefarious practices, as families are often deceived or coerced into giving their children up for adoption.
“The same story happens again in country after country,” said David Smolin, director of the center for Children, Law and Ethics at Samford University.
Madonna’s previous adoptions stirred anger among some Malawians who accused the government of allowing the pop star to circumvent laws that ban non-residents from adopting children.
“The law needs to be reviewed,” said Alfred Seza Munika, executive director of Malawi’s Child Rights Advocacy and Paralegal Aid Centre. “It should be made clear to say what the set procedures are.”
Rights groups have been campaigning for stronger legislation in Malawi as the courts have wide discretion. The Malawi Law Commission has submitted recommendations to the government for reform. “Government is considering them,” said William Msiska, the commission’s chief law reform officer.
Madonna appealed to Malawi’s Supreme Court when her 2009 adoption petition was rejected on the grounds that she was not a resident of Malawi. The Supreme Court overturned the High Court’s ruling, citing her long-term commitment to support a country which has a large population of young children with about 66 percent of its 17 million people under age 25.
Malawi has more than one million orphans and 16.7 percent of children under 18 are orphans. Also, based on the report by the United Nations Children’s Fund, the majority of them lost their parents to AIDS. The truth is adoption reduces the pressure on Malawi’s orphanages, which are overwhelmed with children and underfunded, Msiska said, praising Madonna for the financial support she has given.
“If one comes to adopt, it’s a relief to them,” said Alfred Seza Munika.
Judge Fiona Mwale stated her reasons for letting Madonna adopt the 4-year-old twin girls in a ruling on Tuesday, saying she was satisfied that Madonna “is motivated by her desire to offer a home, love, protection and guidance to the infants.”
“There is no doubt that the petitioner can offer the infants not only the best education money can buy, but also guidance with a high likelihood of ensuring that the two infants grow to be self-sufficient adults,” the judge said.
According to Madonna, the children will keep their birth names as part of an effort to preserve their identity as Malawians, and a Malawian carer will travel with the children to the United States to ease their transition, according to the ruling.
In 2006, Madonna founded the charity Raising Malawi to address the poverty and hardship endured by the country’s orphans and vulnerable children. On a visit to Malawi in late 2014, she met newly elected President Peter Mutharika as well as the father of her adopted, Malawi-born son. Mwale noted that the pop star has raised $7.5 million for her latest project in Malawi, the construction of a pediatric surgery ward at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital in Blantyre. The ward is scheduled to open early next year.
Also the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Hague Convention on inter-country adoption both recognise the right of a child to live in a loving home, and in that context the United States sees inter-country adoption as “an important option for children in need,” said Michele Bond, deputy assistant secretary of state for consular affairs, on November 20, International Adoption Day. International adoption is a two-sided coin because it offers you the possibility of saving a child from a potential life of hardship and abject poverty but sometimes the risks of abuse in a minority of cases outweigh the great good that most adoptions provide.