Malawi Court Rejects Madonna Adoption Request
The judge who confirmed the decision did not make the ruling, but saw it. The lawyer was present when the ruling was made. Both spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the case.
Madonna's efforts to adopt 3-year-old Chifundo "Mercy" James had drawn criticism from some activists who said the little girl would be best off with relatives.
The 50-year-old pop superstar, who was not in court on Friday, can appeal the ruling to Malawi's Supreme Court. There was no immediate comment from Madonna's spokeswoman in New York.
The residency rule was waived in 2006, when Madonna was allowed to take her adopted son, David, to London before his adoption was finalized in 2008. It was not clear why Judge Esme Chombo ruled differently Friday. Another judge had handled Madonna's previous adoption case.
However, when Madonna adopted David, she was still married to British film director Guy Ritchie. Their divorce became finalized earlier this year, and she was adopting Mercy as a single mother.
In court papers made public Friday, Madonna said Chifundo's grandmother was unable to care for her. She promised to make Mercy a permanent part of her family and spare her the "hardship and emotional trauma" of life as an orphan.
The girl's mother, according to the affidavit, died at age 14 just days after her baby was born Jan. 22, 2006. There was no mention of the father in the affidavit. The mother's brother is listed as having consented to the adoption.
"I am able and willing to securely provide for Chifundo James and make her a permanent and established member of my family," Madonna said. "To deny Chifundo James the opportunity to be adopted by me could expose her to hardship and emotional trauma which is otherwise avoidable."
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.
The United Nations estimates 18 million African children will have lost a parent to AIDS by 2010.
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 3.
A coalition of non-governmental organizations called the Human Rights Consultative Committee had criticized 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.
Yet others from Malawi had applauded Madonna, saying the adoption would give Mercy enormous opportunities that she would be unable to achieve in the impoverished country, where 14 percent of adults are infected with the virus that causes AIDS.
Madonna first traveled 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: 3-year-old David, 12-year-old daughter Lourdes and 8-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.
AP Music Writer Nekesa Mumbi Moody in New York contributed to this report.