LONDON – Madonna said Tuesday she had acted according to the law in taking custody of a 1-year-old Malawian boy, responding for the first time to the fierce debate about the legality and morality of the planned adoption.
The pop star's statement came after she was united with David Banda at her London mansion. Madonna said she hopes to make the adoption permanent following an l8-month evaluation period, imposed by Malawi authorities.
"We have gone about the adoption procedure according to the law, like anyone else who adopts a child. Reports to the contrary are totally inaccurate," Madonna said in the statement, issued via e-mail.
Madonna said she and her husband began the adoption process "many months prior to our trip to Malawi," but she had not disclosed their intentions because she wished to keep the matter private. As child-protection groups challenged Madonna's custody order, photographers swarmed outside the singer's home and bloggers and editorial-writers weighed in, that appeared a vain hope.
"After learning that there were over 1 million orphans in Malawi, it was my wish to open up our home and help one child escape an extreme life of hardship, poverty and in many cases death, as well as expand our family," Madonna said.
"This was not a decision or commitment that my family or I take lightly," she added.
David, who has spent most of his life in an orphanage in poverty-stricken Malawi, arrived before dawn at Heathrow Airport aboard a British Airways flight from Johannesburg, South Africa. He was bundled into a waiting Mercedes minivan in the arms of an aide, surrounded by airport officials and armed police officers.
Photographers, reporters and camera crews clustered in the street as the van arrived at the brick Victorian town house near London's Hyde Park that Madonna, 48, shares with her husband -- the director Guy Ritchie -- daughter Lourdes, 9, and son Rocco, 6. Madonna also has a house in the English countryside and a home in Los Angeles.
Last week, Malawi's High Court granted Madonna and Ritchie an interim adoption order giving them custody of the boy for 18 months. Madonna's New York-based publicist, Liz Rosenberg, said that during that time, the couple would be "evaluated by the courts of Malawi per the tribal customs of the country."
The order waived a Malawian law requiring would-be parents to live in the country for a year while social welfare officers investigate their ability to care for a child.
Human rights and child protection groups were challenging the custody order in court in Malawi's capital, Lilongwe. They said they wanted to ensure that child-protection regulations were not swept aside to benefit a singer who has been generous to Malawi.
Madonna's charity, Raising Malawi, is setting up an orphanage for up to 4,000 children, and the singer has said she wants to raise at least $3 million for programs to support AIDS orphans.
Madonna said in the statement she had been "overwhelmed and inspired" by her trip to Malawi and hoped it would help focus attention on the needs of children in Africa.
"From poverty to easy street" said a headline in The Times newspaper -- but others painted a more troubled picture of young David's journey.
The Independent dubbed the saga "Madonna and child: a morality tale," and noted in an editorial that "reports that Madonna chose the child from a selection of orphans presented to her make the whole affair sound worryingly like a commercial process."
Max Clifford, a celebrity publicist, said it was up to Madonna and Ritchie to "convince people that what they've done is right and that the way they've gone about it is right."
Justin Dzonzi, a lawyer for a coalition of Malawian human rights and child advocacy organizations, said his group was concerned that no one explained the implications of the adoption to the child's father, Yohame Banda. David's mother died after giving birth, and the father -- a farmer -- had put his son in an orphanage.
Banda on Tuesday accused the rights groups of being "jealous of my son."
"What's their interest? I want David to have a bright future, not to live in this poverty," he told The Associated Press in his village, Lipunga, 80 miles from the Malawian capital.
Malawian government officials said they had no objection to the adoption.
Some children's advocates said the adoption brought welcome attention to the plight of millions of impoverished children in sub-Saharan Africa. The AIDS pandemic has left almost 1 million children orphaned in Malawi alone, according to the National AIDS Commission.
Madonna joins a growing list of celebrities -- including Mia Farrow, Angelina Jolie and Meg Ryan -- who have adopted children from developing countries.
Jonathan Pearce, director of the adoption-support group Adoption U.K., said celebrity adoption brought attention to the need for adoption -- but could give the impression adopting a child was a simple process.
"I am sure there is a perception that you can just go out there and purchase a child," he said. "Obviously that is not a good way to portray adoption."