“He says that he’s going to marry me
We can raise a little family
Maybe we’ll be alright
Its a sacrifice
But my friends keep telling me to give it up
Saying I’m too young, I ought to live it up
What I need right now is some good advice, please
Daddy, daddy if you could only see
Just how good he’s been treating me
You’d give us your blessing right now
cause we are in love, we are in love, so please
Papa don’t preach, I’m in trouble deep
Papa don’t preach, I’ve been losing sleep
Oh, I’m gonna keep my baby,
Dont you stop loving me daddy
I know, I’m keeping my baby”
“Papa Don’t Preach” written by Brian Elliot and Madonna
What a strange juxtiposition. Madonna’s chart-topping hit from 23 years ago in many ways describing the circumstances of her newly adopted African daughter Mercy’s conception.
Mwandida, they tell me, had met an 18-year-old student called James Kambewa. They met secretly at his sister’s flat. Mwandida’s friends at school warned her it would end terribly, but she ignored them. She was in love.
Unfortunately, Mwandida’s story did not end happily ever after. She died of complications from childbirth. Her family told James Kambewa that his baby died too. It wasn’t until news of Madonna’s impending adoption hit and the press starting digging that he found out his daughter was still alive. How did he react?
“She is my daughter, my blood,” he says. Why did he disappear? “I was frightened. I was just 18 and my family disowned me.” So why has he appeared now? “The newspapers found me, I didn’t find them. I thought Mercy was dead. Mwandida was my only love. I have not been with a woman since Mwandida.”
“She is my daughter, my blood.”
This child had a family. In fact, in addition to her birthfather, she also had a maternal grandmother who lovingly raised her for the first three years of her life.
The story locally is that Lucy, the grandmother … refused to let Mercy be adopted by Madonna. And for three years – from that day in 2006 until about four weeks ago – Lucy remained implacable, resisting approaches from priests, people from the orphanage and other people she had never seen before, to persuade her to let Mercy go.
However tough Lucy has been in resisting Madonna, Madonna has been tougher. She never gave up on adopting Mercy – not least because no one tells Madonna she cannot have what she wants. And now, after years of being told that adoption was the right thing for Mercy, Lucy caved in. In Malawi, she is an old woman and she had had enough.
Some people say that Mercy is “lucky” to be adopted by a rich celebrity like Madonna. They say her birthfamily should be grateful. Sound familliar? It’s the theme we hear all too often in the adoption world – “lucky baby” – casting adoptive parents in the role of savior. Most of the time we shake our heads, knowing that our children are the blessings and we are humbled to be part of the miracle that brings orphans and families together. But what about cases like Mercy’s – a child who is not an orphan, who literally has multiple family members who love her and want to raise her? How is it “lucky” that she is ripped from their arms, now suddenly living on the covers of tabloids, a poster child for her new mother’s charity work?
Can we honestly say this adoption was in Mercy’s “best interests”?
Some international adoption advocates apparently think so.
“The Malawi court’s ruling is consistent with the core principles in our Policy Statement,” said [Professor Elizabeth] Bartholet.
And what did the Malawi court rule?
(3) technical “residence” requirements for adoption must be read in light of the new international order characterized by “globalization and the global village.”
Oh I see. So that 18 month residency requirement just meant a petitioner had to live somewhere on the globe. I’m sure it’s not that Madonna’s massive cash infustion via her own Kabbalah-sponsored charity convinced them to bend the rules so far they no longer make any sense.
Why do I care about one little girl in Africa? Why do I feel the need to analyze Madonna’s adoption here on a website dedicated to adoption integrity in Vietnam? Consider what another advocate has to say:
Madonna’s victory in the Malawian court may further endanger the vulnerable children she purports, so vociferously, to want to help.
Consider the legal system that has endorsed the U-turn in the country’s adoption policy. And I have no doubt that corrupt adoption agencies and child traffickers, newly alerted to the ease with which Malawian laws can be circumvented, are even now planning to target the country.
We are also witnessing the rise of a distressing new phenomenon dubbed the Madonna Effect, in which destitute mothers abandon their babies in the hope that they will be adopted by wealthy foreign mothers.
It is a tragic corollary of Madonna’s personal triumph that such abuses are now flourishing.
And there lies the rub. This isn’t simply about one child, though in my mind that would be tragedy enough. This is about countless other children, in Malawi and possibly around the world, who will fall victim to circumvented adoption laws and the “Madonna Effect”.
Some will say I’m over-reacting. Being too negative. But just this week I heard about a boy who experienced this “Madonna Effect” first hand – though Madonna can’t take the credit.
He lives in Cambodia. In 2001 when my family and so many others in America and around the Western world were making Cambodia one of the top ten sending countries, his destitute parents decided to place him in an orphanage in the hopes that he would be adopted by wealthy Westerners. He was just a toddler, but he still remembers how it felt to watch his mom and dad walk away. He was never adopted. Cambodia’s adoption system was corrupt to the core. The FBI found evidence of baby-switching, coercion and money laundering. The doors of international adoption slammed shut right in front of him. And now, eight years later living in a childrens home with other orphans too old to be adopted even if the law allowed, he still feels that pain and rejection.
“Oh what a tangled web we weave,
When first we practise to deceive!”
Madonna by her fame and riches and celebrity forces us all to consider the ramifications of her adoption. But we mustn’t stop there. For though we are not famous celebrities, our actions have consequences too. Vietnam shut down because of widespread evidence of corruption. Our money provided the incentive. Who will untangle the web?