Leading article: We should not be distracted by celebrity and power


Madonna is, of course, no stranger to controversy. In her long and successful artistic career she has often courted it. But it seems unlikely that the singer will have welcomed the outcry provoked by her latest project. When reports emerged last week that Madonna and her husband, the film director Guy Ritchie, had adopted a 13-month-old boy, David, from a Malawian orphanage, it was assumed the child would soon start a new life with his adopted parents in London.

But a legal challenge mounted by a coalition of child protection groups in Malawi appears to have thrown that process into some confusion. Last night the singer's spokeswoman revealed that only temporary custody has been awarded and the child appeared to have been flown out of the country but accusations remain that the Malawian High Court has waived the law against adoption by non-residents and fast-tracked the application.

We accept that many people will instinctively find this whole tale rather distasteful. Reports that Madonna chose the child from a selection of orphans presented to her make the whole affair sound worryingly like a commercial process; as if this was some sort of luxury item being acquired. Suspicions have also been aroused by the media circus surrounding the trip. Could this, some wonder, be an elaborate and cynical promotional exercise designed to raise the star's profile? Some have questioned Madonna's motives. Is she merely leaping thoughtlessly on to a trend set by other celebrities in recent years of adopting a child abroad? And if so, what guarantees are there that the child's welfare has been given proper consideration?

Others wonder about the broader message this sends out. If it does turn out that normal adoption procedures have been bypassed, it will be an embarrassing example of how easily the rules can be bent for wealthy white people in Africa. There is also a legitimate question of whether such interventions from Western celebrities actually distract attention from the continent's real problems. In short, people have discerned in this story all the unattractive aspects of human nature, from vanity and self-indulgence to insincerity and carelessness.

Yet a degree of compassion and understanding for all involved would be appropriate until the full facts surrounding this case emerge. We must remember that what is at stake here is the chance for a child of a better life than he could expect at home. We should note that David's father wishes the adoption to proceed. And Mirriam Nyirongo, a retired nurse who runs a different orphanage in the country, points to a broader truth: "We must be frank. We can't afford to look after the thousands of babies that are being orphaned every day." There are 900,000 orphans in Malawi, a nation of 13 million people. We must think carefully before concluding that David would be better off staying where he is.

As for Madonna's motives, we must not lose sight of the fact that she is planning to establish a $3m (£1.6m) care centre to provide food, education and shelter for 4,000 orphans in Malawi. Of course, Madonna is very rich, and it would indeed be objectionable if her wealth was the sole reason she was able to bypass the usual procedures. But, equally, her wealth should not count against her. If other couples are able to adopt a child abroad - and an increasing number do - there is no reason why Madonna and Mr Ritchie should be treated any differently.

This is an ethical controversy that extends some way beyond the privileged life of one high-profile couple. We should not be distracted by ephemeral questions of wealth and fame from the sensitive issue that has been exposed here.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’  

Children's TV shows like Grange Hill used to connect us to the real world

Grace Dent
An Indian bookseller waits for customers at a roadside stall on World Book and Copyright Day in Mumbai  

Novel translation lets us know what is really happening in the world

Boyd Tonkin
Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine