The family of Madonna’s adopted Malawian daughter are threatening to take legal action against the singer, claiming she has broken her promise to let them see the girl. They say they were guaranteed regular contact with Mercy James, now five, when the 52-year-old adopted her from an orphanage in June 2009. But they have not seen her since, despite Madonna having made two return visits to Malawi with Mercy.
Now they have enlisted the help of the country’s leading civil rights group CILIC to prepare a legal case.
The child – whose 16-year-old mother died five days after giving birth – was raised by her grandmother and uncles, but placed in the care of the Kondanani Children’s Village when they could no longer look after her.
Emmie Chanika, director of CILIC, said: ‘Mercy’s family have met me several times over the past year and they have been very upset. They have a strong recollection of being told that they would be able to see Mercy and have regular contact with her – and that when she is an adult she will return to live with them in Malawi.
‘I believe they have a case in law because there appears to have been a verbal contract between them and Madonna’s representatives. I have already consulted a lawyer on their behalf. Obviously there could be problems as there is no written agreement, but the lawyer is looking into it.
‘I am preparing a letter which will appeal to Madonna’s lawyer Alan Chinula to intervene on the family’s behalf and ask Madonna to kindly let Mercy meet her family. ‘None of us desires an embarrassing and expensive court case which could humiliate or inconvenience Madonna. The best outcome would be a proper agreement to let Mercy meet her family on a regular basis.’
The legal threat comes as Madonna – currently directing a film about Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson – faces further questions about her abandoned plans for a £10 million girls’ school in Malawi. Two years after she laid a brick in the foundations with a fanfare of publicity, no construction work has been completed and the land has become useless scrubland.
Mercy’s grandmother Lucy Chekechiwa, who raised the child, ekes out a living selling home-grown tomatoes at market in Thwonde village on the outskirts of Malawi’s southern city of Blantyre. Her mud-built home has no running water or electricity. The 72-year-old said the family always intended to bring Mercy back to live with them once she was six, when they believed her immune system would be strong enough to tackle the country’s endemic diseases.
She said: ‘The baby needed feeding and the orphanage offered me a wet-nurse to take care of that. We live a very simple life with little money and we felt she would be better in the orphanage for her first few years.
‘We know Madonna gave a lot of money to the orphanage, and the people there persuaded us to let her have our child. But she cannot love Mercy more than I love her, that is not possible. We are just asking her to be humane.’ Mercy’s uncle Peter Baneti, a fisherman, added: ‘We had been visiting Mercy regularly and we never wanted her to leave us and her country behind. But we were told she had a chance of a good life with this singing star who would make sure she never lost touch with her African roots. ‘We heard that Mercy was brought back to Malawi, and we even saw pictures of her in our newspapers, but there was no contact with us. We feel cheated, and my elderly mother is very upset. She lost her daughter and now her granddaughter.
‘My brother and I decided we should seek professional advice. We are not rich people, nor very well educated, but we know that Madonna’s representatives and the lady at the orphanage promised we would always be in close touch with Mercy.’ Mercy was the second Malawian child adopted by Madonna, who has two older children from two previous relationships – 14-year-old Lourdes and Rocco, ten, In 2008 she adopted one-year-old David Banda from an orphanage in the capital city Lilongwe. He was taken back to meet his father Yohane Banda for the first time in three years in March 2009.