Feature

Madonna’s contentious adoption

The politics and morals of big celebrities adopting children from abroad

When a judge in Malawi rejected Madonna’s application to adopt a second Malawian child, said Beth Nonte Russell in the Los Angeles Times, the press focused on things like Madonna’s outfits. The real story is that due to legal hurdles and misplaced nationalism, an orphaned 4-year-old, Mercy James, was denied a good home. Malawi alone has a million orphans, and making them “political, cultural, and financial pawns” is a form of “modern-day slavery.”

Malawi has so many orphans, said Kevin Watkins in Britain’s The Guardian, because pregnant women there, and in other poor countries, face “terrifying risks.” Mercy’s mother died five days after giving birth, without making any headlines. About once a minute, a poor woman dies in childbirth or during pregnancy—if Madonna wants to help the children, she should “save the mothers.”

Madonna, who’s also set up a Malawian charity, probably has “the best of intentions,” said Robin Givhan in The Washington Post, but you can’t really blame people for assuming some “manipulative, narcissistic intent.” Unfair or not, when “hyperexposed” self-promoters like Madonna and Angelina Jolie adopt foreign kids, it’s hard not to see the children as “exotic souvenirs.” (Watch Madonna and Jolie’s baby face-off on Saturday Night Live)

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