Family of Madonna's adopted girl to sue?

The family of Madonna’s adopted Malawian daughter are threatening to take legal action against the singer, claiming she has broken her promise to let them see the girl.

They say they were guaranteed regular contact with Mercy James, now five, when the 52-year-old adopted her from an orphanage in June 2009. But they have not seen her since, despite Madonna having made two return visits to Malawi with Mercy.

Now they have enlisted the help of the country’s leading civil rights group CILIC to prepare a legal case.

The child – whose 16-year-old mother died five days after giving birth – was raised by her grandmother and uncles, but placed in the care of the Kondanani Children’s Village when they could no longer look after her.

Emmie Chanika, director of CILIC, said: ‘Mercy’s family have met me several times over the past year and they have been very upset. They have a strong recollection of being told that they would be able to see Mercy and have regular contact with her – and that when she is an adult she will return to live with them in Malawi.

‘I believe they have a case in law because there appears to have been a verbal contract between them and Madonna’s representatives. I have already consulted a lawyer on their behalf. Obviously there could be problems as there is no written agreement, but the lawyer is looking into it.

‘I am preparing a letter which will appeal to Madonna’s lawyer Alan Chinula to intervene on the family’s behalf and ask Madonna to kindly let Mercy meet her family.

‘None of us desires an embarrassing and expensive court case which could humiliate or inconvenience Madonna. The best outcome would be a proper agreement to let Mercy meet her family on a regular basis.’

The legal threat comes as Madonna – currently directing a film about Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson – faces further questions about her abandoned plans for a £10 million girls’ school in Malawi.

Two years after she laid a brick in the foundations with a fanfare of publicity, no construction work has been completed and the land has become useless scrubland.

Mercy’s grandmother Lucy Chekechiwa, who raised the child, ekes out a living selling home-grown tomatoes at market in Thwonde village on the outskirts of Malawi’s southern city of Blantyre. Her mud-built home has no running water or electricity.

The 72-year-old said the family always intended to bring Mercy back to live with them once she was six, when they believed her immune system would be strong enough to tackle the country’s endemic diseases.

She said: ‘The baby needed feeding and the orphanage offered me a wet-nurse to take care of that. We live a very simple life with little money and we felt she would be better in the orphanage for her first few years.

'We know Madonna gave a lot of money to the orphanage, and the people there persuaded us to let her have our child.
Madonna with her other adopted Malawian child, son David Banda, in Malawi in 2009

Madonna with her other adopted Malawian child, son David Banda, in Malawi in 2009

‘But she cannot love Mercy more than I love her, that is not possible. We are just asking her to be humane.’

Mercy’s uncle Peter Baneti, a fisherman, added: ‘We had been visiting Mercy regularly and we never wanted her to leave us and her country behind. But we were told she had a chance of a good life with this singing star who would make sure she never lost touch with her African roots.

‘We heard that Mercy was brought back to Malawi, and we even saw pictures of her in our newspapers, but there was no contact with us. We feel cheated, and my elderly mother is very upset. She lost her daughter and now her granddaughter.

‘My brother and I decided we should seek professional advice. We are not rich people, nor very well educated, but we know that Madonna’s representatives and the lady at the orphanage promised we would always be in close touch with Mercy.’

Mercy was the second Malawian child adopted by Madonna, who has two older children from two previous relationships – 14-year-old Lourdes and Rocco, ten,

In 2008 she adopted one-year-old David Banda from an orphanage in the capital city Lilongwe. He was taken back to meet his father Yohane Banda for the first time in three years in March 2009.

The row over Mercy comes as Madonna – who once announced grandiose plans to ‘end all poverty’ in the country – faces a storm of criticism from government officials for abandoning her plans for the girls’ school in the village of Chinkhota.

In a statement posted on her Raising Malawi website, Madonna insisted she was still committed to the project adding: ‘My original vision is now on a much bigger scale. I want to reach thousands not hundreds of girls. I want to do more and I want to do it better.’

However Ministry of Education spokesman Ben Phiro said: ‘No person, however rich and famous, can come into our country and make decisions about educational institutions without our agreement.

‘Madonna has said she has changed her plans and wants to build community schools instead of the academy but we know nothing about this. Her lawyers ought to know better.’

On Saturday The Mail on Sunday visited the site of the proposed 500-pupil school. The 125-acre site is now barren land, a scar on the otherwise fertile landscape and all that remains of Madonna’s grand plans.

A group of angry and disappointed villagers, herding their cows and goats on the scrubland, described Madonna’s treatment of their community as ‘an insult’.

One of them, Estire Chambo, said: ‘For about two years there was work going on here. We were not happy that we had given up our farmland but we were told it would be worthwhile, there would be jobs and then a big school.

'Now the work has stopped. We want our land back to grow maize but we cannot put plants into this soil. It is ruined.’

Another villager, Elube Malingamoyo, said: ‘There used to be big pieces of machinery here, giving our people casual labour. Five months ago it disappeared and we knew it must be the end of our hopes. Now our menfolk are planning to take back the land. It must be ours, it belonged to our ancestors.

'Maybe this woman Madonna only ever wanted to take babies from Malawi. Now she has what she wanted she has finished with us.’


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