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Madonna Merits Praise, Not Jeers

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First an outfit called Save the Children UK butted in and denounced Madonna for adopting Malawi orphan David Banda in 2006. Now another bunch has jumped into the adoption fray and branded her a "bully" for her plans to adopt another Malawi orphan. The Human Rights Consultative Committee pretty much rehashed the same tired complaint as Save the Children did three years back, that Madonna is using her wealth and star power to bypass Malawi's adoption procedures.

Madonna ignored Save the Children back then with their silly bellyache and she'll likely do the same with the committee.

The figures tell the grim tale of why she should. According to UN estimates, half of the 1 million Malawian children have lost a parent or both parents and half were because of AIDS. More than 13 percent of Malawi's 13 million people are poor, dirt poor and, not surprisingly, the majority of them are women.

Malawi is hardly an aberration. More than 12 million children have lost one parent or are orphans in African nations. And given the rampant number of AIDS cases, and the warfare and poverty that plague many of these countries, the number of children who have lost one or both parents to AIDS will soar to nearly 20 million next year, according to the UN. Apart from a string of cramped, desperately underfunded and in many cases unsafe orphanages in sub-Saharan Africa, many of these children are doomed to live out their childhood in a caretaker existence.

That's only the start of Africa's orphan misery. These children are still mostly unwanted anywhere else in the world. In 2008, 2,399 visas were issued to African children adopted by Americans last year, out of 17,438 adoptions from abroad, according to the State Department. Ethiopia, with a paltry 1,725 orphans taken in by Americans, was the only African country that cracked the Top 10 list in the 12-month period ending Sept. 30, 2008.

Madonna has raised millions through her Raise Malawi Organization to fight poverty and disease in the country. She's made plans to build a school for young women there, and done more than any other U.S. celebrity to raise attention to the plight of Malawian orphans and women. She has put her money and name behind tackling one of the world's toughest problems and that's providing a better life for Africa's dispossessed children. For that she's piteously ragged on, sniped at and backbitten by media-chasing hounds and a handful of sanctimonious orphan relief groups. Why?

Human rights and child protection groups claim Madonna tossed her money and celebrity around to bend Malawi's adoption laws to fast-track the adoption, and that the adoption is another celebrity publicity stunt. Both are falsehoods. She observed the rules in 2006 with the adoption of Banda, and Malawi's courts have granted her an interim adoption order. She also kicked in a lot of dollars to boost orphanage services in the country. As one of the world's best-known superstars, Madonna hardly needs to snatch an African child to grab camera action.

The unstated, and more contemptible, reason that certain groups and individuals are upset about the adoption is the archaic notion that a white person, especially a wealthy white celebrity, is culturally clueless when it comes to raising a black child.

What makes this notion mind-boggling is that the crisis is not just one in which African babies are shunned in America -- African-American orphans are too. In 2006, there were more than a half-million children in foster care in America, according to the 2008 Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System Report. Nearly 32 percent were African-Americans and they stayed in foster-care homes on average a year longer than white children.

Madonna did a huge service by using her star power to cast light on Malawi and Africa's orphan misery. You go, Madonna.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His weekly radio show, "The Hutchinson Report," is streamed nationally on blogtalkradio.com

Originally published in the Chicago Tribune.