- Pop star Madonna's act of plucking an orphaned child from Malawi to give it a better life has triggered concern and confusion, and has even conjured up images of slavery among people living in one of the world's poorest countries.
Ranked in 2003 as the United Kingdom's eighth highest earning woman - one place behind Queen Elizabeth II - with an annual income of about US$28 million and an estimated fortune of $462 million, Madonna, 48, was granted an interim adoption order for David Banda in the High Court in the capital, Lilongwe, on Thursday, before the 13-month-old boy was whisked away to his English home to meet his new siblings, Rocco, 5, and Lourdes, 9.
A spokesperson for Madonna and her husband, British filmmaker Guy Ritchie, initially refused to confirm speculation that she was planning to adopt a child from a country where more than three-quarters of its 12 million people live on less than US$2 a day, but the boy's father, Yohanne, whose wife, Merita, died during childbirth, said he was relived because he was "very poor to keep him".
Reports that an advance party selected 12 children, who were then paraded before one was chosen for adoption, evoked unpalatable images of the past. "The line-up of children - it used to be called slavery," commented Rafiq Hajat, director of the Institute for Policy Interaction, a Malawian think-tank, even though the child would have "the trappings of wealth".
Earlier this week Madonna and president Bingu wa Mutharika met at State House. No details were provided about the meeting, but Malawi is believed to have waived its ban on foreign nationals adopting children for the singer.
Hendrina Mchiela, Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Gender, Child Welfare and Community Services, declined to comment to IRIN about the adoption.
Madonna is the latest in a long line of celebrities with a penchant for adopting children from the developing world. American actress Mia Farrow, who began adopting children from poorer nations in 1973 and is now mother to 14, is generally regarded as pioneering the trend. Her marriage to her third husband, American film director Woody Allen, disintegrated after Farrow discovered that Allen had begun a sexual relationship with her adopted daughter Soon-Yi, who later married him.
Hollywood star Angelina Jolie has adopted two children from the developing world so far: a daughter, Zahara, from Ethiopia and a son, Maddox, from Cambodia. She recently had her own child with her current partner, Brad Pitt.
Madonna's trip to Malawi was billed as a private visit to participate in her 'Raising Malawi' project, which is constructing an orphanage that will provide food, education and shelter to about 3,000 children, and where the mystical Jewish faith of Kabbalah will be taught for spiritual instruction.
Maxton Tsoka, a research fellow at the Centre for Social Research at Chancellor College, near Blantyre, Malawi's commercial hub, sees the "foreign adoption" as contributing to the erosion of the extended family system.
"I do not think that our law provides for adoption. The government is quiet on the matter because it knows it is not in its interest. Even the orphanage centres that are sprouting are being allowed because the ... [number of orphans] has been worsened by the HIV/AIDS epidemic and government cannot do anything about it."
Malawi has about 1 million AIDS orphans and UNAIDS estimates that 14 percent of the sexually active adult population is infected with the virus.
Tsoka said the child "will have to grow in a different cultural and social environment", and it was unlikely that his biological father would have any parental claims on the boy.
Levision Ganiza, director of Youth Development Initiative, a local nongovernmental organisation, said the boy was "too young to be adopted, and I think something sinister is going on".
"Why should the authorities give away a boy of one year? If the boy was over five years, that would have been fine. As a country, I think we are being taken for a ride just because we are poor," said Ganiza. "Government signed a number of charters on child rights, and it should respect them."
afrol News - It is called "financial inclusion", and it is a key government policy in Rwanda. The goal is that, by 2020, 90 percent of the population is to have and actively use bank accounts. And in only four years, financial inclusion has doubled in Rwanda.
afrol News - The UN's humanitarian agencies now warn about a devastating famine in Sudan and especially in South Sudan, where the situation is said to be "imploding". Relief officials are appealing to donors to urgently fund life-saving activities in the two countries.
afrol News - Fear is spreading all over West Africa after the health ministry in Guinea confirmed the first Ebola outbreak in this part of Africa. According to official numbers, at least 86 are infected and 59 are dead as a result of this very contagious disease.
afrol News - It is already a crime being homosexual in Ethiopia, but parliament is now making sure the anti-gay laws will be applied in practical life. No pardoning of gays will be allowed in future, but activist fear this only is a signal of further repression being prepared.
afrol News / Africa Renewal - Ethiopia's ambitious plan to build a US$ 4.2 billion dam in the Benishangul-Gumuz region, 40 km from its border with Sudan, is expected to provide 6,000 megawatts of electricity, enough for its population plus some excess it can sell to neighbouring countries.