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Malawian Claims Madonna Adopted Son

Madonna has adopted a 1-year-old Malawian boy whose mother died a month after childbirth, the baby's father claimed Tuesday, saying he was happy his son was escaping poverty.

Malawian government officials said last week the pop star planned to adopt a Malawian boy while she is in the impoverished African nation visiting projects she funds for AIDS orphans. However, they declined to comment on Yohame Banda's claim that his son David had been adopted by the singer.

Madonna has made no public comment since her arrival. Her publicist, Liz Rosenberg, said in a statement last week that the star was on a private visit working on projects for children, and dismissed statements from Malawian government officials that she and her husband, film director Guy Ritchie, planned to adopt a boy.

"I am the father of David, who has been adopted," Banda, 32, told The Associated Press Tuesday. "I am very very happy because as you can see there is poverty in this village and I know he will be very well looked after in America."

He said his wife Marita died a month after the baby's birth from childbirth complications and the child had been cared for at the Home of Hope Orphan Care Center in Mchinji, a village near the Zambian border.

Banda said his son left the orphanage on Monday and was taken to the capital, Lilongwe, where Madonna and her entourage were staying in an upscale ranch.

Madonna has visited the orphanage at least once during her visit. Its director, Rev. Thompson John Chipeta, has refused to speak to the media.

Madonna arrived in Malawi Oct. 4 to visit her Raising Malawi project, which is setting up an orphan care center to provide food, education and shelter for up to 4,000 children. It will have projects based on Kabbalah, Judaism's mystical sect, which counts the 48-year-old singer among its devotees.

Madonna and Ritchie have a son, Rocco, 5, and the singer also has a daughter, Lourdes, 9.

Banda, a farm worker who lives in Lipunga, a village about 50 miles from the orphanage, said he had been told that David would make regular visits to Malawi.

"He will know his roots," Banda said.

The child's grandmother, Asinei Mwale, said she learned about the adoption from Chipeta.

"The director of the orphanage came here yesterday and told us that David has been adopted by a famous American singer," Mwale said. "I am very glad for him because having grown up as an orphan myself, I know how tough life can be."

Malawi is among the poorest countries in the world, with rampant disease and hunger, aggravated by periodic droughts and crop failure. Some 14 percent of its 12 million people are infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, and an estimated 1 million children have been orphaned. In many villages, grandparents or older siblings struggle to feed orphans.

In an open letter to Madonna released Tuesday, the private Malawian child advocacy group Eye of the Child welcomed her concern for Malawian children, but questioned whether foreign adoptions were in the best interests of children.

Jackie Schoeman, executive director Cotlands, a South African organization that cares for children affected by HIV, said the first choice for orphans should be a place in a local family. In Africa, orphans usually are take in by their extended families, but AIDS has affected many of the people who might have traditionally provided support.

"If the only other option is for them to be in a long-term institutional then we would consider international adoption," Schoeman said.

By Raphael Tenthani

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