Madonna's African Adoption Akin to Slavery?

News that pop singer Madonna is the latest celebrity to adopt an African child prompted New York Post writer Andrea Peyser to write a column condemning the star for encouraging something close to slavery. Peyser talks with Madeleine Brand about her article, and Alex Chadwick follows it with a counterpoint from Adam Pertman, executive director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.

You must have heard the Madonna adopts African child story. The one-year-old was living in an orphanage in Malawi. His mother had died of AIDS. His father cannot afford to take care of him. But the headline in the New York Post yesterday read Shameless Star Buys an African Souvenir. And columnist Andrea Peyser went on with one of the most memorable anti-celeb rants we can recall.

My colleague Madeleine Brand simply had to call her.

MADELEINE BRAND: Andrea Peyser, you really pulled no punches with this column. You write, There is nothing that money can't buy, I suppose; that is, except talent and taste and moral fiber. Stop this monster.

Tell us what your beef is with Madonna adopting an African child.

Ms. ANDREA PEYSER (New York Post): She went into this country where actually it is illegal for foreigners to adopt, and Madonna came in there with her checkbook and bypassed all these rules. But not just that. The child she chose, out of 12 boys - she only wanted a boy - has not only a father but a grandmother.

They're dirt poor, they have nothing. I think if she wanted to help them, a much better route would be to write them a check or give money to the village, to the family, do something tangible for their lives, rather than take the child away.

BRAND: But she is pledging three million dollars to a local orphanage.

Ms. PEYSER: And I applaud that. But her price, evidently, was this little baby.

BRAND: Well, what about the argument that the ends justify the means in this case? This kid was almost certainly never going to rise above abject poverty. And won't he certainly have a much better life with Madonna?

Ms. PEYSER: Oh, you know, unquestionably he will have a material life filled with material goods. But does this mean that we Americans - rich Americans can go all over the world, throw around money and say, okay, you know, you're coming with me. I mean, this is slavery, for goodness sakes.

BRAND: What about the larger issue here with all this attention celebrities are focusing on Africa? Do you think it's a good thing in the end?

Ms. PEYSER: Well, I certainly hope so. I mean, Africa definitely has some of the worst problems in the world. I mean, it's ravaged with AIDS, there's poverty, drought, and so on. But you know, is the price a child? Maybe we should just take all the children out and make them all American. Why is it okay to take this one child?

BRAND: New York Post columnist Andrea Peyser. Thank you.

Ms. PEYSER: Thank you.

CHADWICK: That interview by Madeleine Brand.

Adam Pertman is executive director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute. That's an adoption policy organization. Adam, I'm not sure fairness even enters into this after Andrea Peyser's remarks, but what do you think?

Mr. ADAM PERTMAN (Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute): I think, first, that I don't know enough about the individual case, and I'm not sure anyone does. It's easy to say that Madonna chose this one boy. Well, I would bet a lot of money that the orphanage had a say. The state has a say. The father had a say. It's not shopping. Adoption is not shopping, no matter what anybody thinks.

And if she crossed that line or any of the tens of thousands of other people who adopt abroad cross that line, then we ought to do something about it; nail them, shut down the people who are doing the baby selling. But if it's not that, and there's no indication it's that, then this is a human being who, like tens of thousands of other people, are adopting children who need homes. If a kid needs a family, whether he's in this country or in another country, then giving him a loving family seems to me a very positive thing to do.

CHADWICK: How common would it be for, say, a father of a child to be alive when you had an adoption like this?

Mr. PERTMAN: It happens abroad, it happens in this country. The question's not so much whether a father exists as what role he can play in the life of the child. If in fact there is an opportunity to keep a child within family, within culture, then that should be first choice. I do not know those details. I'm not sure the columnist does. Something is amiss there that allowed a one-year-old child to be continuing to live in an orphanage.

Nobody thinks, none of the research shows, that kids are better off in orphanages than in loving families. There's a celebrity element to this. I get that there's a spotlight on her, on Madonna, and that's why we're talking about this. But I have friends who adopted from Africa, and I know people who adopted from China, and people who adopted from foster care in this country. They did it to give a kid a home. They did it to become parents. They did it for good reasons. They didn't have cameras in front of them, so we never had this debate about their lives and the children they adopted.

But in most cases - and again, we want to do it right, we want to do it ethically - but in most cases, the kids are better off, and not just because of material goods, but because living in a loving family, wherever it may be, beats the heck out of growing up in an institution.

CHADWICK: Adam Pertman, executive director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute. Adam, thank you.

Mr. PERTMAN: My pleasure.

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