LILONGWE, Malawi (Reuters) - A Malawian court on Wednesday formally approved pop star Madonna's adoption of a baby boy she took home from an orphanage in the impoverished southern African nation, a lawyer for the singer said.
Madonna's bid to assume parental rights over David Banda has been highly controversial with critics accusing the government of skirting laws that prohibit non-residents from adopting children in Malawi, which has been badly hit by the AIDS epidemic.
"We are very happy with what the judge has ruled. It is a positive and beautiful judgment that will have an impact on Malawi's adoption laws," Madonna's Malawian lawyer, Alan Chinula, told Reuters.
The High Court judge issued the ruling privately in chambers in Lilongwe in the company of lawyers. It was expected to be made public later on Wednesday.
Madonna said last week the controversy had been difficult to deal with but she was happy to be involved in a case that might pave the way for more adoptions in Malawi. An estimated 1 million children in the country have been orphaned by AIDS.
Chinula said the ruling also recommended that Malawi speed up amendments to its laws, which prevent adoptions by non-residents. The government had provided a waiver to the pop singer.
Malawi's Human Rights Commission, an independent, government-funded rights watchdog, had said the adoption, which began in 2006, would be illegal. The High Court delayed its ruling on the adoption last week to review a report by the commission.
The HRC report, a copy of which was obtained by Reuters, said the law made clear a person had to be in Malawi for at least 18 months to qualify as a resident. Madonna has not spent that long in the country.
But on Wednesday the HRC's chairwoman, Dorothy Nyasulu, said the commission was happy with the ruling.
"The judge considered our arguments and has cited several cases in Haiti and other countries and cited the convention on child rights," said Nyasulu.
Banda, now about 3 years old, is living with Madonna and her husband, British film director Guy Ritchie, in London. Banda's mother died shortly after giving birth to him. His father has approved of the adoption.