Court allows challenge to Madonna adoption


LILONGWE - Madonna may want to keep her baby -- but she could have a fight on her hands.

Malawi's high court Wednesday allowed human rights groups to participate in a judicial review of the pop star's adoption of a one-year-old Malawian boy, marking a new twist in a case which has attracted worldwide headlines.

Legal experts said the order would have no immediate impact on David Banda, who has been living at the pop star's London home since she took custody of him in October.

The ruling also offered some relief for Madonna as it did not amount to a green light for the rights groups to mount a full challenge against the adoption.

Justin Dzonzi, a lawyer for the applicants, acknowledged as much but said it would help clarify Malawi's laws on adoption.

"We are not saying that David should come back, but rather help change the law and assist the court to make a proper decision on whether to grant Madonna full adoption rights," he said.

Madonna's lawyer Alan Chinula said he had no objections to the ruling, which is unlikely to require Madonna to return to the southern African country any time soon.

"In my submissions to court earlier, I did not object to their applications and arguments as regards the law and therefore I do not see any problems with the order," he said.

Madonna signed interim adoption papers when she and her husband, film maker Guy Ritchie, visited in October on what they said was a humanitarian mission to help Malawi orphans.

But the coalition of 67 rights groups will now be allowed to take part in all court hearings on granting a permanent adoption order, expected in 18 months.

The rights groups had sought to lodge a court challenge against the interim adoption, arguing the speedy granting of custody violated Malawi's decades-old ban on adoptions by non-residents.

Under the interim order, David Banda was to stay with Madonna for 18 months during which time his progress would be monitored by Malawi officials before final approval may be given for him to remain with her family.

Judge Andrew Nyirenda said the rights groups, who were later joined by Malawi's Human Rights Commission, had demonstrated there was a case to be heard.

"The applicants have made it clear that they would not be commenting on the facts, but only critical areas of law because of the importance of the matters under consideration so that appropriate jurisprudence be developed for future guidance," he said in his ruling.

Madonna's plans to adopt David Banda were quickly complicated by the appearance of the boy's father Yohane Banda, who said he had not been properly advised of the singer's plan to take his son away permanently.

David Banda had lived in an orphanage since the death of his mother, and Yohane Banda later said he hoped Madonna would take good care of his son.

Madonna already has two children -- daughter Lourdes, 10 and son Rocco, 6. She told the BBC she was shocked at the furor over her Malawi adoption plan, and hoped that African countries could change their adoption laws to enable more children to find new homes.