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Madonna and (an African) child

The pop star brought attention to the plight of African orphans. But will she be allowed to keep hers?

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He is, they say here, the most famous Malawian of all. Farmers sit around boasting. Secretaries in the capital, Lilongwe, have photos of him as their screen savers.

David Banda is just 2 years old, and he's famous because he was chosen for adoption by a pop diva named Madonna.

It's a fairy tale story, with a climax featuring one of the world's biggest celebrities swooping into rural Malawi, plucking a little boy from a crowded orphanage and flying him away on a silver Gulfstream to a life of privilege.

"Look, we have nothing. It is good to take him away," says Joseph Tambala, a farmer voicing the consensus here. "I wish someone would take my baby away."

The Material Girl's presence in this southern African nation – her charity work and, above all, David's adoption – have brought much needed attention to Malawi and the plight of its orphans.

And yet not everyone is cheering.

Recently, a group of 67 aid agencies, child charities, and church groups here joined to protest what they see as a celebrity using her status to circumvent legal procedures. "We are not against Madonna adopting a child per se," explains Justin Dzonzi, chairperson of the coalition, which has taken its grievance to the high court in Lilongwe. "We are simply asking that she, like everyone else, follows the laws."

David first caught the eye of Madonna's husband, Guy Ritchie, when the filmmaker was visiting the Home of Hope orphanage in Mchinji, some 60 miles west of the capital, say orphanage workers. The star couple had been looking to adopt, and Ritchie decided that this was the tot they wanted.

There was, however, a complication: the boy's father.

Yohane Banda's first child died within a few weeks of birth. The second, at 18 months. His third son, David, was born healthy, but Banda's wife died. Malawi has one of the highest maternal and infant mortality rates on the planet. According to Save the Children's 2006 report on the state of the world's women, 1 in 7 Malawian women die giving birth.

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