Baby David Banda arrives in London by private jet from Malawi not in the arms of those who hope to be his parents – Madonna and Guy Ritchie – but in the care of Shavawn Rissman, the superstar’s stylist and personal assistant.
According to reports, David has toys costing £15,000 and a lavish nursery – information uncomfortably juxtaposed against a picture of his father, Yohane Banda, toiling on his parched land, a father who is now saying, if press reports are accurate, that he never intended for David to be taken from him permanently.
So stringent are the UK regulations, the few individuals allowed to adopt abroad often spend weeks getting to know the baby in their own environment, understanding their world. What does Madonna do? She makes a brief visit, leaves the final details to her entourage and flies home ahead of the child.
Social care professionals repeatedly advise that adoption is a highly demanding exercise in parenting that requires time and patience and an ego that isn’t supersize . Of course, some adoptions are hugely successful, rewarding for both parents and children. These are adoptions that, ideally, have been carefully managed and, initially, heavily monitored. But in other cases, despite the best efforts of the agencies involved, the challenges and frustrations are endless. Tough enough when the adoptive parents and child share a culture and background and colour of skin in common. How much more difficult, when the process is inter-country, and has been conducted in the glare of the limelight.
Madonna made clear in the statement she issued within hours of David’s arrival that his inclusion in the Ritchie family was, in part, an act of charity, to “help one child escape an extreme life of…poverty”. How can an infant who has been turned into a symbolic gesture of philanthropy ever believe he is loved for himself alone?
According to government regulations, inter-country adoption is acceptable only if “the child cannot be cared for in any suitable manner in his or her own country”.
That is not the case with David. Another stipulation is that the child “has broken his ties with his family of origin”. Again, that was not the case with David. Madonna has also referred to Malawi’s million orphans as if in justification for importing the one-year-old. Again, that is not David’s circumstances.
His father, Yohane, cycled 25 miles every week to visit him in the Home for Hope orphanage and now appears confused about the details of David’s departure from Malawi. David has an extended family who say they knew nothing of the details of the proposed adoption. No social worker in the UK would condone any of this.
Mac Forsyth, director of the British charity that funds the orphanage that cared for David in his first year, has rightly said that if Madonna wants to help African orphans, she should sponsor their extended families so they can look after their own offspring .
Madonna claims she has gone about the adoption, according to the law. But that has to be the far speedier US law. In the UK, according to the Adoptions with a Foreign Element Regulations 2005, the Ritchies should have been assessed and approved by a local authority or voluntary adoption agency in this country.
Professionals in the adoption services have the right to be angry that carefully thought through procedures to protect the child are apparently so easily brushed away by expensive lawyers and stardust.
Over the next 18 months of “evaluation” (a star-proof social worker will be required to make those Marble Arch mansion visits to Madonna), the Ritchies may be judged a loving family unit – but that doesn’t erase many of the concerns.
David has become a public relations vehicle before he has even learned to walk. When he reaches adolescence will he want to discover who he might have been?
Yvonne Roberts is a writer and journalist