In the latest setback for my hope that the mainstream media will treat international adoption as something other than a freakshow or a punchline, Madonna's effort to adopt another child from Malawi has been rejected on the grounds that she was apparently unwilling to fulfill Malawi's residency requirement.
"The decision came down to residency requirement and the fact that the judge believes she was being well taken care of in the orphanage," said Zione Ntaba, a spokeswoman for the Malawi Justice Department.
"For the Malawians, the fact that the child is at an orphanage, is being taken care of and is going through the school education system, that does qualify as the best interests of a child," Ntaba added.
Predictably, this is generating two species of asshattery. Species one: the sentiment that all international adoption is the product of the accessory-seeking whims of flighty rich white people. Species two: the sentiment that this is a terrible decision, because of course the child would have a "better life" with Madonna.
Certainly the child would have a more materially fortunate life with the Material Girl. (OK, sorry.) But the question of whether that life would be "better" in other ways lies at the heart of the dilemma of international adoption. Without diving headlong into the question today, I submit this: the child's life would not be "better" in a way that justifies exempting an aging pop star from Malawi's residency requirements or otherwise ignoring Malawi's sovereign right to oversee the adoption and welfare of its children.
Paula at Heart, Mind, and Seoul — an adult adoptee and adoptive parent whose writings on international adoption issues should not be missed if you are interested in the topic — has a good take on this, in which she decries the "how can you enforce residency rules when this is best for the child" sentiments and reasonably questioning why Madonna can't just hang out in Malawi long enough to satisfy the residency requirement if she is committed to this child. Getting a child — whether through labor or adoption — is not calculated to be convenient or easy, so why should we expect that it will be? As I've argued before, adoption ought not be all about the parent.
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