LILONGWE, Malawi — Madonna and her three children toured a day-care centre built by her charity Monday as critics slammed the star’s attempt to adopt a second child from this poor African nation and a judge delayed a ruling in the case until Friday.
Some child advocacy groups say the 50-year-old pop star’s plans to adopt a young Malawian girl have been fast-tracked because of Madonna’s money and status. One accused her of acting like a rich “bully.”
After spending about an hour in court Monday, Madonna swapped her high heels and formal skirt for camouflage trousers and big black boots for an outing into the hot, lush Malawian countryside.
Holding the hand of three-year-old David, whose adoption from Malawi was finalized last year, the singer walked around the compound of the Mphandula child-care centre, about 50 kilometres from the capital.
Madonna also was accompanied by her 12-year-old daughter Lourdes and eight-year-old son Rocco — who sported a mohawk haircut for his first visit to Malawi.
The centre, which provides primary schooling and other child care to about 4,000 children, boasts neatly cut lawn, swings and slides, and freshly painted classrooms.
This was the first time the star had seen the day-care centre completed. On her last visit in 2007, construction had just started. Asked by reporters how she liked the progress made, Madonna gave a thumbs up.
In one room, Madonna tried her hand at basket-weaving under the watchful eye of a few local woman. David was given a cow-skin guitar as a gift, and he pretended to strum the strings.
Meanwhile, a coalition of non-governmental organizations held a press conference in the capital, Lilongwe, criticizing the pop star’s latest adoption application.
“We feel Madonna is behaving like a bully,” said Undule Mwakusungula, chairman of the Human Rights Consultative Committee. “She has the money and the status to use her profile to manipulate, to fast-track the process.”
Madonna’s spokeswoman Liz Rosenberg in New York did not immediately return a call seeking comment Monday.
The girl Madonna is hoping to adopt is about four years old, according to a Malawian welfare official and another person involved in the proceedings who both confirmed an adoption application was under way.
Monday’s court roll listed only the child’s name — Chifundo James, which means “Mercy” in a local language. Her uncle, John Ngalande, has said she was turning four soon.
The girl’s 18-year-old mother was unmarried and died soon after she was born, the uncle said. Her father is believed to be alive but has little contact with his daughter, he said.
The coalition’s Mwakusungula told reporters that adoption should be the last resort and that children need to be taken care of by their own family.
“Mercy James is a child who has her extended close family members alive and we urge Madonna to assist the child from right here,” a statement from the coalition said.
Mabvuto Bamusi, the coalition’s national co-ordinator, said they were asking the court to uphold the country’s laws and to “fully” assess Madonna’s second adoption bid.
“Celebrities adopting children are merely taking advantages of weaknesses in our country,” he said.
Malawian law is fuzzy on foreign adoptions. Regulations stipulate only that prospective parents undergo an 18- to 24-month assessment period in Malawi, a rule bent when Madonna was allowed to take David to London.
David’s adoption was a trying process for the singer, who has said the storm of criticism hurt.
The boy’s mother died when he was a month old. His father has said he believed he could not care for David alone, and that placing the boy in an orphanage was the best way to ensure his survival.
Earlier Monday, David spent 2 1/2 hours with his biological father at an exclusive lodge where the pop star is staying.
“I was very happy to see him,” the father, Yohane Banda, told The Associated Press, adding that David did not recognize him. “He asked me who I was.”
Standing outside the courthouse with a number of other curious onlookers, E. Ngulinga said he understood the criticism directed at the pop star but that it was hard to deny a child the kind of opportunities offered by Madonna.
“That baby is going to have the advantages of going to school and of becoming someone,” he said. “Here it is very difficult.”