- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 4, 2009

LILONGWE, Malawi | In a surprise move, a judge Friday rejected Madonna’s request to adopt a second child from Malawi, saying it would set a dangerous precedent to bend rules requiring that prospective parents live in the area for some period of time.

Madonna’s attorney, Alan Chinula, said later Friday that he has “filed notice for appeal in the Supreme Court of Appeal.” He said no date was immediately set.

The country’s child welfare minister had come out Thursday in support of the pop star’s application to adopt 3-year-old Chifundo “Mercy” James.

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

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

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

“It is necessary that we look beyond the petitioner … and consider the consequences of opening the doors too wide,” the judge said. “By removing the very safeguard that is supposed to protect our children, the courts … could actually facilitate trafficking of children by some unscrupulous individuals.”

The judge made clear she was not questioning Madonna’s intentions, and even praised the “noble” work Madonna’s charity has done to feed, educate and provide medical care for some of Malawi’s more than 1 million orphans.

The judge said it was “my prayer” that the 3-year-old girl Madonna wanted to adopt would benefit from such programs.

Judge Chombo said the girl Madonna wants to adopt was receiving “suitable” care in an orphanage. She said that contrasted with David’s situation in 2006, when an orphanage was preparing to return the boy to his father, who had said he was struggling to care for him.

Madonna first traveled to Malawi in 2006 while filming a documentary on the devastating poverty and AIDS crisis, and later decided to adopt children from the country.

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

Judge Chombo acknowledged the rules for foreigners were vague. Regulations that require Malawian welfare officials to observe prospective Malawian parents with the children they want to adopt for 18 to 24 months have been assumed to apply to foreigners, though legislation has been proposed making the period for foreigners one year.

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

“In my opinion, this would completely remove [Madonna] from the definition of ‘resident,’ ” the judge said.

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