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Lawyer: Madonna to appeal adoption refusal

LILONGWE, Malawi - In a surprise move, a judge on Friday rejected Madonna's request to adopt a second child from Malawi andsaid it would set a dangerous precedent to bend rules requiring that prospective parents live here for some period.

Madonna's lawyer, Alan Chinula, said later Friday that he has"filed notice for appeal in the Supreme Court of Appeal." He saysno date was immediately set.

>> VOTE: Do you agree with the Malawi court's ruling to reject Madonna's adoption request?

>> See photos of other celebrities who have adopted children.

>> See photos of Madonna in concert and through the years.

The country's child welfare minister had come out Thursday insupport of the pop superstar's application to adopt 3-year-oldChifundo "Mercy" James.

But in a lengthy ruling Friday, Judge Esme Chombo sided withcritics who have said exceptions should not be made for the starwho has set up a major development project for this impoverished,AIDS-stricken southern African country.

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

Chombo said other foreigners have adopted children from Malawi,but the only case in which the residency requirement was waived wasto allow Madonna to take David Banda out of the country in 2006before that adoption was finalized in 2008.

She indicated concern that doing so again could set a precedentthat might eventually jeopardize children.

"It is necessary that we look beyond the petitioner ... andconsider the consequences of opening the doors too wide," thejudge said. "By removing the very safeguard that is supposed toprotect our children, the courts ... could actually facilitatetrafficking of children by some unscrupulous individuals."

The judge made clear she was not questioning Madonna'sintentions, and even praised the "noble" work Madonna's charityhas done to feed, educate and provide medical care for some ofMalawi's more than 1 million orphans.

The judge said it was "my prayer" that the 3-year-old girlMadonna wanted to adopt would benefit from such programs.

Chombo said the girl Madonna wants to adopt was receiving"suitable" care in an orphanage. The judge said that contrastedwith David's situation in 2006, when an orphanage was preparing toreturn the boy to his father, who had said he was struggling tocare for him.

Madonna first traveled to Malawi in 2006 while filming adocumentary on the devastating poverty and AIDS crisis, and laterdecided to adopt children from the country.

After the ruling Friday, journalists saw Madonna, lookingrelaxed and even cheerful, touring a village near Lilongwe, whereshe is building a school. She did not speak to reporters.

In a 2008 interview with The Associated Press, Madonnaacknowledged the difficulties in adopting from Malawi, saying:"They are still trying to finesse the laws."

Chombo acknowledged the rules for foreigners were vague.Regulations that require Malawian welfare officials to observeprospective Malawian parents with the children they want to adoptfor 18-24 months have been assumed to apply to foreigners, thoughlegislation has been proposed making the period for foreigners oneyear.

The judge said Madonna had last visited Malawi in 2008, and"jetted into the country during the weekend just days prior to thehearing of this application."

"In my opinion, this would completely remove (Madonna) from thedefinition of 'resident,"' the judge said.

Critics had accused Madonna of using her fame and money tofast-track the adoption, but the singer said she had followedstandard procedures. She faced similar allegations when she broughthome David, who is now 3.

Mavuto Bamusi, an official with Malawi's Human RightsConsultative Committee, called Friday's ruling "a defining momentfor child protection." Bamusi's group had been among thosecriticizing Madonna's adoption plans, saying they revealedweaknesses in the country's laws.

"We sympathize with children like Mercy who find themselves inorphanhood," Bamusi said. "But the Malawi authorities should takethis as a moment of reflection. The laws of Malawi should now bestrengthened so that no celebrity, no family that is trying toadopt should be seen as taking advantage of our weak laws."

In court papers made public Friday, Madonna said Chifundo'sgrandmother was unable to care for her. Media in the country hadreported that the grandmother had initially opposed the adoptionbut later agreed.

The girl's mother, according to the affidavit, died at age 14not long after her baby was born Jan. 22, 2006. There was nomention of the father in the affidavit. The mother's brother islisted as having consented to the adoption.

Malawi's child welfare minister had endorsed Madonna's adoptionapplication.

"We have close to 2 million orphans in Malawi who need help,"Women and Child Welfare Development Minister Anna Kachikho told TheAssociated Press. "We can't look after all of them as a country.If people like Madonna adopt even one such orphan, it's one mouthless we have to feed."

Orphans usually are taken in by their extended families inAfrica, but AIDS and other diseases have taken a toll on those whomight have traditionally provided support. In villages across thecontinent, frail elderly grandmothers do their best to care forchildren, but many end up in orphanages or on the streets.

Malawi, with a population of 12 million, is among the poorestcountries in the world, with rampant disease and hunger, aggravatedby periodic droughts and crop failure.

The U.N. says 1 million Malawian children have lost one or bothparents, about half of them to AIDS, and estimates 18 millionAfrican children will have lost a parent to AIDS by 2010.

Adoptions from Africa have risen in recent years, but thecontinent still accounts for only about 14 percent of overseasadoptions by Americans. According to the U.S. State Department,2,399 visas were issued to African children adopted by Americanslast year, out of 17,438 adoptions from abroad. Most of the Africanchildren were from Ethiopia. Malawi, perhaps because its laws onforeign adoptions are vague, has not been a source of manychildren.

>> VOTE: Do you agree with the Malawi court's ruling to reject Madonna's adoption request?

>> See photos of other celebrities who have adopted children.

>> See photos of Madonna in concert and through the years.


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