LILONGWE, Malawi – Malawi's High Court said Monday it will rule next week on whether a coalition of human rights and child advocacy groups should help decide whether Madonna is fit to adopt a 13-month-old boy.
Justice Andrew Nyirenda said he will rule Nov. 20 on whether to admit the 67-member coalition, which includes the state-run Malawi Human Rights Commission, as a party in the adoption proceedings. The coalition maintains the proceedings have been irregular.
Madonna says she has met all the country's requirements for adopting the toddler, and David's father, Yohane Banda, has said the human rights group's lawsuit threatens his son's future.
The 48-year-old pop singer and her husband, British filmmaker Guy Ritchie, were granted interim custody of David Banda by a High Court judge on Oct. 12.
Malawi regulations stipulate an 18- to 24-month assessment period be spent in Malawi, but the couple were allowed to take David to their London home.
"Basically what we are asking the court is that we want to be joined as a party to the assessment because we have a lot of legal issues we want to raise," Justin Dzonzi, chairman of the coalition known as the Human Rights Consultative Committee, told journalists after a 90-minute closed hearing Monday.
Dzonzi has said his coalition wasn't trying to block the adoption, but wanted to be a party to the process to make sure Malawian laws were respected.
"Over 1,000 Malawian children are being adopted illegally every year and yet the laws say international adoption are not permissible," Dzonzi, who is a lawyer, said Monday. "There is no system to monitor how these adopted children are being treated, wherever they are."
"We want to use the Madonna case to make sure that the rights of children in Malawi are effectively protected."
Titus Mvalo, a lawyer the coalition had hired to challenge the adoption proceedings, withdrew, apparently fearing he would be seen as trying to keep Madonna from adopting David, even though coalition members have said that isn't their intention.
"I decided to withdraw because I thought that there was a high possibility of being misunderstood by society," he told reporters Monday, saying he thought it would be good for David to be adopted by Madonna.
On the eve of the hearing, Yohane Banda reiterated his appeal for the human rights activists "to back off and leave my son alone."
"As David's father I consented. I see no reason why I should change my mind now," said the 32-year-old peasant, who ekes a living from a modest onion and tomato garden.
Madonna's Malawian lawyer, Alan Chinula, told journalists that as far as the singer is concerned, all Malawian adoption laws have been followed.
Chinula said Madonna and Ritchie, 38, were also complying with Britain's adoption laws.
Malawi's Department of Gender and Child Welfare Development said a team of child welfare officers would fly to London to make the first assessment in May 2007 and one more assessment would be done by December 2007 before a report is filed on the couple's suitability as adoptive parents.