LILONGWE, Malawi – Madonna and her husband jetted out of Malawi early Friday, after gaining preliminary custody of a 1-year-old boy they want to adopt in an apparently streamlined procedure that sparked criticism from a child protection organization.
In a statement later, Madonna’s spokeswoman Liz Rosenberg confirmed the adoption plans but said 1-year-old David did not leave with Madonna and Guy Ritchie Friday because final legal arrangements were still being made. Malawian officials also said the child’s departure had been delayed for procedural reasons, and that he was being cared for in the meantime by members of Madonna’s entourage who stayed behind.
In raising questions about the adoption, Boniface Mandere of Eye of the Child emphasized that his organization was not against international adoption or Madonna helping a child in a country where many face lives of disease, hunger and premature death. Malawi is one of the world’s poorest countries, devastated by AIDS and periodic drought.
But “what Eye of the Child is saying is: You cannot buy a child as if you are buying a house,” Mandere told The Associated Press. “This process is too short, applying on Tuesday, and yesterday the court gave the OK. I don’t think that the High Court has any information about how Madonna is when it comes to child-rearing.”
“We are concerned that the High Court has taken a short cut and waived the law. We are registering our concern and will seek clarification from the court, after which we will decide what action to take.”
He said Malawi’s laws do not allow international adoption unless the parents live in the country for a year, during which social welfare workers investigate their ability to care for a child.
Malawian officials had indicated earlier that adoption regulations would be eased for Madonna and Ritchie, but refused to elaborate Thursday.
Madonna’s private plane had departed for an undisclosed destination just before 2 a.m.
Madonna and Ritchie have a son, Rocco, 5, and the singer also has a daughter, Lourdes, 9.
David’s father, Yohame Banda, said he was pleased the celebrity couple wanted his son, whose mother died just after childbirth. He said he met with them at court during the filing procedures.
“They are a lovely couple,” Banda said. “She asked me many questions. She and her husband seem happy with David. I am happy for him. Madonna promised me that as the child grows she will bring him back to visit.”
Madonna’s charity Raising Malawi is setting up an orphan care center to provide food, education and shelter for up to 4,000 children. It will have projects based on Kabbalah, Judaism’s mystical sect, which counts the 48-year-old singer among its devotees.
In an open letter to Madonna released Tuesday, Eye of the Child had questioned whether foreign adoptions were in the best interests of children.
But Mirriam Nyirongo, a retired nurse who runs an orphanage in the northern Malawian town of Mzuzu, said: “We must be frank. We can’t afford to look after the thousands of babies that are being orphaned every day.
“If rich people like Madonna take just one child it will be a major boost for Malawi. For people like Baby David, when they come to know their roots, might wish to do the same (for) others.”