Madonna and Child

In October, hundreds of millions of people all over the world learned about a one-year-old boy from Malawi called David. A month before, it seems safe to assume, many of these people had never heard of his native land, a landlocked African nation of about 13 million people bordering Mozambique, Zambia, and Tanzania. Suddenly, David became the world’s best-known Malawian because it was his good fortune to be adopted by Madonna, the pop star who is to TV cameras what honey is to bears.

But was it really good fortune? David’s father, Yohane Banda, suddenly in the media spotlight, said he had not understood that his son no longer belonged to him and might never return to Malawi. Madonna says that that is not what Banda said earlier, although she does not speak his language. Was it good for the boy, people asked, to be separated from his father? Human rights advocates began court action to demand his return.

David’s mother is dead. After her death, his father, a villager who grows vegetables and gets other work when he can, was unable to care for him, and placed him in an orphanage. There, until Madonna came into contact with him, he was living with about 500 other children. Largely due to Malawi’s HIV/AIDS epidemic, the country has a million such orphans. Resources at the orphanages are limited, and many of the children there do not live to their fifth birthday. Madonna said that when she met David, he had severe pneumonia and was breathing with difficulty.

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