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Human Rights Group Tries to Halt Madonna's Adoption

10/15/2006 at 06:00 PM EDT

Human Rights Group Tries to Halt Madonna's Adoption
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Madonna

Madonna

The Human Rights Consultative Committee (HRCC), a grouping of 67 human rights NGOs in Malawi, tells PEOPLE they hope to halt Madonna's adoption of a 13-month old baby boy for the moment.

Justin Dzonzi, HRCC's chairman, says the group wants to make sure Malawi's laws "are not bent" for the 48-year-old singer.

"The laws of Malawi are clear that if one wants to adopt a child one has to stay with the child for at least 18 months for assessment," he said.

On Monday the group will apply to Malawi's High Court to be included as an "interested party," and then get a stay of the temporary order Justice Andrew Nyirenda granted Oct. 12 allowing Madonna and her husband Guy Ritchie to take the baby. (In the end, the couple could not take the boy – named David Banda – when they left Malawi early Oct. 13 because his passport was still being processed. The procedure could take up to two weeks.)

The U.S. Department of State's Web site warns prospective adoptive parents of Malawi orphans that the country requires 24 months' "fostering the child" in country. Just seven children have been adopted from Malawi by U.S. citizens in five years, according to State Department figures.

But Morderchai Msisha, a senior constitutional lawyer from Malawi, tells PEOPLE that Malawi's law clearly bars international adoption. "If Madonna wants to adopt this baby she has to stay here," he said. "Someone is bending the laws for Madonna." Madonna – through her charity Raising Malawi – is establishing an orphanage for underprivileged children, mostly AIDS orphans. She is also funding six existing orphanages.

"Madonna and her legal counsel have been working on her plans to adopt a baby from Malawi for quite some time. She had hoped to keep this very private and a family matter, but things didn't go that way," the singer's spokeswoman, Liz Rosenberg, tells PEOPLE. "I was not made aware of many of the chapters in this ongoing process. Hopefully Madonna and family will soon be reunited once everything goes through."

And Madonna's local lawyer in Malawi, Alan Chinula, told PEOPLE: "I have no instructions yet from my clients; what I have done is to file the adoption papers … if some people want to challenge it (the adoption process) we will deal with that later."

Upon hearing the news of the adoption challenge, baby David's biological father, 31-year-old Yohane Banda, was indignant.

"As David's father I have no problem (with the adoption), so what is their concern? Are they jealous or what? What I want is good life, a good education for my child," he told PEOPLE. David's mother died a week after he was born, and Yohane gave him to the orphanage because he was unable to care for him.

But some family members say Banda, a farmer, is being exploited. Pofera Jefremu Banda, a cousin of Yohane's, told PEOPLE that Yohane doesn't fully understand what's happening.

"My cousin is illiterate, he doesn't understand a thing; he was made to sign papers he didn't understand," Pofera Banda, 21, told PEOPLE.

Pofera said some family members think Madonna will just raise baby David and bring him back later.

"They don't understand that adoption means he is Madonna's child and will even change his name," he said.

Madonna and Ritchie – who spent eight days in Malawi – left the country to be back in London for Madonna's daughter Lourdes's 10th birthday on Saturday. The pop star spent an hour at Pilates class, then met up with 6-year-old son Rocco at her Kabbalah center. She spent about three hours there (Rocco left before she did) before returning home.

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