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Posted at 11:15 AM ET, 04/ 6/2009

Why Madonna Should Be Allowed to Adopt

By Liz Kelly

Madonna, along with son David Banda, visit a Malawi orphanage last week. (AP)
Comment Box

You may not agree (and in a poll taken here last Monday 60 percent of you disagreed) but I think Madonna should be allowed to adopt four-year-old Malawian orphan Chifundo "Mercy" James. At least based on all the available facts we have at this point.

On Friday, a Malawian judge denied the pop star's request to add another Malawian child to her family, saying she didn't meet an 18-month residency requirement. A devastated Madonna (and allegedly equally upset daughter Lourdes) returned to the U.K. Sunday, but not without filing an appeal.

Critics of the adoption cited her recent divorce from Guy Ritchie, her tabloid-ready lifestyle and an assumption of "celebrity entitlement" as reasons why the 50-year-old mother of three should not add another kid to her jet-setting household.

But now that Madonna's adoption prospects have moved from the realm of celebrity fast-tracking to a probably long legal battle over a very real child, has your opinion changed?

Beth Nonte Russell, writing in the L.A. Times, says Madonna's case is a high profile warning bell, alerting us to the increasingly difficult international adoption process. Children, Russell argues, kept in their home countries for well-intentioned nationalistic reasons often suffer long-term effects from being institutionalized for much of their young lives.

Russell writes:

The questions that should be asked -- "Does a viable alternative to the orphanage exist for this little girl in Malawi, and does it exist now? Is there someone there who is willing and able to give her the love and care that is needed by all children?" -- are subsumed by ridiculous snarking about clothes and statements about what Madonna "should" do instead of adopting this child.

No matter the reasons that led Mercy James's family to turn their child over to an orphanage, the fact remains that she is living -- even in that orphanage -- at or below poverty level. Add to that the fact that her family knew there was a possibility that Mercy would be adopted into another home and that the adoption process has been in the works for 19 months. Why is Mercy James's grandmother, who accused Madonna of trying to "steal" her granddaughter, only speaking out now?

And, if this report from the U.K.'s Sun is to be believed, the four-year-old has already spent a significant amount of time bonding with Madonna and her other three children, leaving her confused and upset by their departure.

Save the Children's Sarah Jacobs argued against Madonna's adoption bid last week. High profile cases, like Madonna's and Angelina Jolie's, have helped to make international adoption a big business in some countries, she says. The solution, she insists, lies in getting communities, and whole countries, above the poverty level so families won't be forced to give children up to orphanages:

Families in the affluent world wanting to make a real difference to the lives of orphans can support aid agencies, such as Save the Children, that are working on the ground to get children out of institutions and support their families so they can live safely and well at home.

But with an estimated 150 million orphaned children worldwide, are donations -- or even policies -- enough to swiftly change the lives of these kids and, specifically, the life of Mercy James?

Has your opinion changed? I'm asking you to re-take last Monday's poll below.


Celeb for a Day: The Winning Entries
On Friday, I asked: "If you had the ability to inhabit the body of one celebrity for one day, who would it be and why? What would you do with your day?" The entries below stood out as noteworthy.

1. Most Creative: I think that I would probably be Kurt Cobain. Because, you know, popping back up out of the ground and being a zombie and stuff would really freak people out. They'd be like "Oh my god, it's Kurt Cobain and he's a zombie" and I'd be like "Yes! I am dead and I must have brussel sprouts! Bring me your brussel sprouts!" Then everyone would be like "Wait, don't you mean 'brains?'" and I'd be like "No! The undead draw their dark powers from brussel sprouts! Muahahahaha!" People would totally freak out and burn all the brussel sprouts since that's what the undead eat. Which would be awesome, because I hate brussel sprouts. (karmadrome)

2. The Forciest: I would be George Lucas, and I would apologize. (northgs)

3. Scatalogical-est: Could I be Paris Hilton's dog, Tinkerbell, so I could take a dump in her purse? (Sasquatchbigfoot)

4. Anti-Corgy-est: I'd like to be Queen Elizabeth for a day so I could smack Prince Philip around for all his stupid comments. Then I'd visit an animal shelter and get a nice big dog. (memphis1)

5. Most Practical: I would be Demi Moore. Who would then have lunch with Jennifer Aniston and would teach her how to keep quiet about her celebrity divorce. (Chasmosaur1)

By Liz Kelly  | April 6, 2009; 11:15 AM ET
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Liz's commentary didn't change my mind about Madonna adopting one bit. I think she would be able to provide clothing, shelter and food for her children and she can hire someone to provide the nurturing and disciplinary side while she's galavanting with the rest of the cougar world.

But she needs to obey the rules. The judge said know because there is a requirement for adoption. I'm not sure what the situation was when she adopted David - if they had this stipulation and she was excused or if they didn't have it and enacted it after her first adoption. I'm glad she's going through an appeal process and hope that she is not shown any preferential treatment during that process. (though i think they should grant her permission on the grounds that she never EVER wears that outfit again.)

The other thing, why Malawi again? Why not another African country, or another continent? I'm sure there are plenty of kids all over the world (including the US) who need homes. But I don't want to get on a soapbox.

in other news: did anyone catch the Weekend Update on SNL this weekend where Madonna and Angelina are talking about babies? The best part of the episode, and that's not saying much.

Posted by: eet7e | April 6, 2009 11:38 AM | Report abuse

I think Madonna will most likely win on appeal and be able to provide the child a loving home. In that event, congratulations. But I am of the opinion that whatever the court ultimately decides is appropriate. I'm kind of glad to see them actually consider the welfare of the child and not simply bowing down to Madonna's celebrity.

I also think Sarah Jacobs has an excellent point. Adopting a child is a wonderful act and you are doing great things for that one child, but you are doing little for the cause of children's welfare worldwide.

Posted by: aesully | April 6, 2009 11:48 AM | Report abuse

Do you know what country's population in the world rates themeselves the happiest? I'll give you a hint, it is not the US. We came in 16th! Just because Madonna can provide a better material life (ha! no pun intended), doesn't mean it is a happier life.
Anyway, I am still in the I don't know enough facts camp leaning to the no she shouldn't because she reminds me too much of the evil Stepmother.
By the way, the answer to today's Geoquiz is Nigeria. How 'bout them apples?

Posted by: hodie | April 6, 2009 11:51 AM | Report abuse

So, what... the judge said no, so Madonna said "fine, I'll take my ball and go home??"

How bonded could she and her kids be with this little girl if the first thing they do is jet back to England? Especially with the judge's main criticism being that she hadn't spent enough time in Malawi...?

I am so not impressed with Madonna's maternal fervor, here. This is not how a mother behaves. I am all for adoption, be it international, pet, highway... But suitable parents should be adopting available children. Period.

Posted by: WDC2 | April 6, 2009 11:54 AM | Report abuse

I don't have a problem with Madonna adopting but isn't it strange how they always go to these third world countries to adopt. Why? Because they know they can "buy" the child.

I want ALL children to have a safe, stable and loving family but there are rules for a reason.

Posted by: rlj1 | April 6, 2009 12:00 PM | Report abuse

Madonna has to follow the rules like everyone else. This protects the children who are not being adopted by a superstar. There are some very bad people in the world who love nothing more than to get their hands on children like the ones in Malawi.

I also don’t understand when she has more money than God why she just doesn’t take up residence in Malawi for a while if she wants the little girl so bad.

Posted by: supersonic1 | April 6, 2009 12:09 PM | Report abuse

Malawi is not self-sufficient. It is heavily dependent upon foreign aid. It has the highest infant mortality rate and life expectancy averages 43 years. HIV/AIDS has ravaged the adult population, leaving a teeming population of orphans.

Madonna has paid her pound of flesh. She funded an orphan care center and her foundation is working with the Millenium Villages Project to improve health care and agricultural practices.

Chifundo's grandmother put her up for adoption. At that point, she ceded any rights to the child to the state.

And to those who say "rules are rules," do you think a government that lost foreign aid last year due to widespread corruption has any capacity to observe a parent for 18 months to determine suitability? What sort of test do they have for prospective parents that takes 18 months to administer?

In the meantime, a year and a half of care and expense get billed to the cash strapped government. Madonna might not be "mother of the year," but Malawi is definately in the running for most delusional nation of the year.

Posted by: mdreader01 | April 6, 2009 12:12 PM | Report abuse


Why do you care soo much about this topic?

Posted by: jezebel3 | April 6, 2009 12:14 PM | Report abuse

A fifty-something having sex with a twenty-something should probably be a disqualification for having children. Unless, of course, the fifty-something is male (just kidding, girls). Seriously, what's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. Men have been doing this for years and there's no reason a woman shouldn't be able to partyhearty with a boytoy and still be a good mother.

Posted by: kabuki3 | April 6, 2009 12:31 PM | Report abuse

Good Lord, I agree Jezebel. Liz, Whaddayacare?

Posted by: cheekymonkey | April 6, 2009 12:31 PM | Report abuse

I'm still not convinced Madge doesn't regard adoptee kids as accessories. or perhaps toys for her natural kids.

Posted by: memphis1 | April 6, 2009 12:35 PM | Report abuse

I like the idea someone had last week -- if Madonna wants to help this child, she could always support the child's family so the little girl could LIVE WITH HER FAMILY, go to school, receive medical attention, etc. Better yet, support the entire orphanage and/or village.

Posted by: Arlington3 | April 6, 2009 1:08 PM | Report abuse

Of course the best thing is for all the people in those countries to be lifted out of poverty. But what is best for this particular child - now? Would a big Madonna donation to her family give them a chance to care for her, a chance that they would take in a good and loving way? Or would she, although better fed and clad, still be miserable?

The individuals can't wait. I'm not prepared to sacrifice her for a principle.

Posted by: asoders22 | April 6, 2009 1:19 PM | Report abuse

Some thoughts on comments about the grandmother:

"Why is Mercy James's grandmother, who accused Madonna of trying to "steal" her granddaughter, only speaking out now?"

Who says she is only speaking out now? How do we know she hasn't been unhappy about this all along? You think there are a lot of reporters wandering around Malawi? Think Grandma can just pick up her cell and call the National Enquirer? Likely her story is only hitting the press now because reporters have shown up now that they know the adoption is in process and sought comments from the family.

"Chifundo's grandmother put her up for adoption. At that point, she ceded any rights to the child to the state."

First, we don't really know the circumstances. According to the grandmother, she thought her granddaughter would return home at age 6 -- maybe true, maybe not. We do know that she put the child in an orphanage in a country where foreign adoption is generally not allowed, so it's reasonable to assume that she believed the child, if adopted, would remain in her home country, and perhaps even likely nearby where she could remain in touch with her biological family.

The grandmother also claims she was pressured by the government to support the adoption. Again, we can't really know, but it's certainly not impossible that she was bullied by officials, and if that's the case, that those bullies had been paid off. Personally, I just find it odd that Madonna insists on using her great means to adopt children in a country where foreign adoption is illegal. There are so many impoverished lands to choose from -- why does she feel a need to adopt children specifically from a country where she must circumvent their laws to do so?

Posted by: silverspring4 | April 6, 2009 1:20 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: jezebel3 | April 6, 2009 1:22 PM | Report abuse

I think that Madonna should adopt Tripp Johnston. That would solve the Palin-Johnston custody dispute. It would also remove Tripp Johnston from a white trash governor's mansion and provide him with a better life.

Posted by: sasquatchbigfoot | April 6, 2009 1:31 PM | Report abuse

i think liz has a fair point... but for all that the positives of fame generally help with getting what you want, the downside is a guarantee of people taking advantage of you to horn into the spotlight. It's normal for the Yoko Ono's of the world to nose into something they aren't a part of and make a mess of things, but when it puts a little kid's life into play - that makes the calculation a lot more complicated. This isn't an obvious easy answer. Jolie balances the line better than the others - maybe the rule should be 'if you cant walk that line and tone your personal life down to a low decibel humm then dont try to draw attention to the plight of the worlds orphans'...

Posted by: quintiliusvarus | April 6, 2009 1:39 PM | Report abuse

Whatever. Personally, I was hoping for some commentary on the massive Carrie Underwood dress...

Posted by: Chasmosaur1 | April 6, 2009 1:48 PM | Report abuse

Liz, There's an important option missing from your poll: Sure, she can adopt, if she meets the requirements of the law. If Malawi has an 18 month residency requirement, why should Madonna, with her unlimited resources, get a pass? Because she wants to go on tour? Not a good enough reason. She has the means to meet the requirements, just not the will. In that case, she's made the decision not to adopt, not the judge.

Posted by: kronical | April 6, 2009 2:27 PM | Report abuse

Perhaps I'm just playing the devil's advocate here, but everyone seems to be taking Malawi's side, as if Malawi were some sort of model nation.

It's the poorest nation in Africa and one of the poorest in the world. "Why doesn't she support the family?" The child has no family but a grandmother, who put her up for adoption.

Madonna isn't a perfect person. Whom among us is? We get so picky about adoptive parents (perhaps because we can't be picky about biological ones?) that we miss the good solution in search of the perfect solution.

Posted by: mdreader01 | April 6, 2009 2:41 PM | Report abuse

I agree with writer of column that Madonna should be allow to adopt. I believe that she attends to give the child and can give the child much more than it can ever get in a orpanage. There are too many children without homes or families. Madonna's children that are very watched or in public eye seemed to be doing quite well. Let the child have a chance...and for the critics against...are you offering a good home for the many kids that are without homes growing up in the system.

Posted by: dday1 | April 6, 2009 3:17 PM | Report abuse

Please add "Don't Care" as a polling choice.

Posted by: kirstenpaulson | April 6, 2009 3:36 PM | Report abuse

Please add "Don't Care" as a polling choice.

The "don't care" contingent are noted by the absence. If you clicked in order to come look at this blog topic, by definition you don't not care (double negative intended).

Posted by: Nosy_Parker | April 6, 2009 3:40 PM | Report abuse

Sigh. It seems my earlier comment has been placed in a holding pattern by the WaPo censors (lucky you). Bottom line: My opinion hasn't changed. Madonna should be able to adopt. Too many kids out there need homes.

Posted by: td_in_baltimore | April 6, 2009 3:43 PM | Report abuse

I think there are many deserving children in England that could readily be adopted. I feel she comes across as arrogant and denigrating to Malawi and the continent of Africa. In appearance it seems Madonna would bypass all the needy children in her home country to go across the world to rescue a child in Malawi. So a child in Malawi is in such desperate straits that only a person from the Western industrialized world can save her?? Or is it more the publicity and ego of a wealthy woman that needs to be rescued?

Posted by: aow0526 | April 6, 2009 3:45 PM | Report abuse

So Save the Children wants to keep children in orphanages and instead lift the whole nation out of poverty? Well, good luck with that. Meanwhile little Mercy and her peers get to grow up in miserable circumstances, unloved and without family. Like so many do-gooders, the Save the Children woman seems to only care about "people" in the abstract but not actual individuals.

I was opposed to Madonna's adoption of this girl originally, but I've changed my mind based on one thing: this little girl has spent time with Madonna and the other kids, has bonded with them, and so should be allowed to be adopted by them. Nobody has ever argued that Madonna was an unfit mother. Obviously, Malawi law is "flexible": they've already sold one orphan to Madonna when she wasn't legally qualified to adopt, and were happy to shop out this little girl on spec. So I'm not exactly all riled up about supporting Malawi's supposed rule of law, if you know what I mean.

Finally, people, can we have a moratorium on the term "white trash" -- it's more than a little racist.

-The Poster Formerly Known as Snarky Squirrel

Posted by: 7900rmc | April 6, 2009 4:54 PM | Report abuse

Why doesn't she go live in Malawi? She can afford it. She can probably build a whole town.

Posted by: msame | April 6, 2009 5:30 PM | Report abuse

So a child in Malawi is in such desperate straits that only a person from the Western industrialized world can save her??
Posted by: aow0526 | April 6, 2009 3:45 PM

Yes. Malawi happens to be the poorest nation in Africa. Madonna funded a documentary about Malawi to raise world awareness about how desparate that situation is.
Why doesn't she go live in Malawi? She can afford it. She can probably build a whole town.

Posted by: msame | April 6, 2009 5:30 PM
She has lived in Malawi for a time while the documentary was being filmed. That's when she met David Banda. She's been there quite a bit building an orphanage and contributing to a bunch of humanitarian projects.

I could skewer Madonna for a whole host of stuff. Perhaps her biggest sin here is wearing her concern on her sleeves (or tee-shirt, if you will.) We don't like our "heroes" to be too egotistical. Doesn't seem right, does it?

But then again, maybe she just stumbled upon a desparate situation and wanted the rest of the world to know? What's so wrong about that? And what's so wrong with wanting to touch one or two children personally? It ensures that your committment to the nation is personal, since two of your children were born there.

So would you rather Madonna have given birth to one of her children in Malawi as a publicity stunt like Angelina Jolie did in Namibia?

Come on.

Posted by: mdreader01 | April 6, 2009 5:52 PM | Report abuse

Both Angelina and Madonna have made the choice to adopt children not of their race, in very high-profile ways (unlike Tom Cruise - who I can't stand - but he has never, ever made any point at all about the racial background of his adopted children). Madonna and Angelina give the impression, at least to me, that there are only non-white children who are poor and homeless.

Why do they not adopt children of their own race? There are many, many 4-year-old children with Italian heritage who need families in the U.S.

Their purposely choosing children of different races, in a way that seems condescending -"we are the white saviors of the downtrodden" makes these children seem as if they are being used as props.

If other divorced 50-year-old women are allowed to adopt children without following the rules, then let Madonna adopt - if not, then she should not receive special treatment.

But there is nothing about the raising of her own children that impresses me - were I a family court judge I would have my doubts about placing a child with a woman who, essentially, works as a stipper for her living, and whose marriage recently failed, and who fought a bitter custody battle to move her own children away from the country in which they had lived most of their lives (England). She seems emotionally unstable, however financially successful she is - and that is what seems to impress Liz so much. The money will be better for Mercy with Madonna. But will this move improve Mercy's happiness? What impact will it have on her soul?

The picture that made me feel almost ill was of David "visiting" his natural father - who had dressed up in a suit and tie to see his little one. How sad that their relationship has become so limited.

Posted by: Amelia5 | April 6, 2009 9:04 PM | Report abuse

As a sovereign nation, Malawi - through its courts - will make the determination. That I sincerely doubt the court makes such decisions with much consistency and without seeking what is known as "baksheesh" in the Arab world is not the point... Politics is politics. High profile adoptions such as this catapult third world nations into the spotlight and some try to make the most of it. It has nothing to do with her worthiness or non worthiness with raising kids.

Posted by: itsagreatday1 | April 6, 2009 10:03 PM | Report abuse

Nosy, you are right. My real point is that I think Liz has exhausted this topic. Things are just not the same around here with Brittney behaving. I need a good celeb scandal.

Posted by: kirstenpaulson | April 7, 2009 8:49 AM | Report abuse

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