The boy who knew too much: a child prodigy

This is the true story of scientific child prodigy, and former baby genius, Ainan Celeste Cawley, written by his father. It is the true story, too, of his gifted brothers and of all the Cawley family. I write also of child prodigy and genius in general: what it is, and how it is so often neglected in the modern world. As a society, we so often fail those we should most hope to see succeed: our gifted children and the gifted adults they become. Site Copyright: Valentine Cawley, 2006 +

Friday, April 03, 2009

Madonna's Adoption Bid

Madonna, the woman who needs no introduction, has been refused the right to adopt a child from Malawi. Chifundo "Mercy" James, a little orphaned girl, will grow up, not in a superstar's home, but in the orphanage she now lives in. The decision was made because the judge in the case, decided that allowing Madonna to adopt would send the wrong signal to human traffickers about how easy it was to secure a child in Malawi.

Now, some will cheer this decision, largely because they don't like Madonna or rich people in general. Some will cheer because they think it sends the right signal to traffickers. I, however, am not cheered by this decision, for one good reason: a child has been denied a loving family.

Chifundo "Mercy" James would have grown up with every advantage possible were she adopted by Madonna. She would "want for nothing". She would receive the best of educations. She would have the best of opportunities. Not only that but she would have a mother who very clearly loves to be a mother and would be a good, warm, nurturing presence in her life. Instead, however, she has the impersonal embrace of an orphanage and all the restricted opportunities that implies.

I rather feel that the judge in the case has not judged this case in particular, but used the case as an opportunity to make an international political point. He has sent a signal to traffickers that getting children out of Malawi might not be so easy. He has chosen to sacrifice the opportunity of one child to actually have a family, so as to prevent the trafficking of the children of Malawi - or at least reduce the perception that trafficking of such children is possible or easy.

Now, while I admire the judge's point and purpose - and agree that it is an important issue, I do feel that he should not have sacrificed Chifundo "Mercy" James' life happiness to make this point. There are other ways to do so. He could have used the publicity, in concert with his government to announce new restrictive laws on the movement of Malawi's children overseas. He could have made it clear that exceptions may be made where the prospects for the child are exceptional - such as they are with Madonna's adoption bid. He could have made it clear that it is only because Madonna offers a good life to Chifundo that the bid is being allowed. There was no need to block the bid to make the point he wished to make.

Apparently, the normal rule for adoption from Malawi, is that the adoptive parent should have lived in Malawi for eighteen months prior to the application. This eliminates almost all possible bids, of course - including Madonna's I presume.

I feel that the judge has not considered the beneficial aspects of an adoption by Madonna. Her celebrity parenting of a child from Malawi, would raise the profile, in the minds of potential parents, of adopting a child from Malawi. Many children who might otherwise have grown up in orphanages, may end up being offered homes, and families, as a result. It can only be good for Malawi to facilitate this.

It should be noted that Malawi is one of the world's poorest countries. Over half of its 12 million people live on less than 1 (yes ONE) dollar a day. Madonna would have been taking Chifundo "Mercy" James out of a situation with such bleak prospects and giving her the life of a daughter of a multi-millionaire (Madonna's fortune is estimated to run into hundreds of millions of dollars).

Madonna's adoption would have inspired many others to reach out to the orphanages of Malawi and give those unfortunate children a family. The rejection of Madonna's bid can only harm the prospects of all children, in the orphanages, who might otherwise have been adopted. Indeed, by rejecting Madonna's bid, the judge is sending an unintended message: "Trying to adopt a child in Malawi is an expensive waste of time and money and even the super-rich like Madonna can't do it, successfully."

What might have been a flood of adoptive parents, inspired by Madonna, may now be not even a trickle.

I think this decision was made for good reasons, but without good reasoning. The wider implications of the decision were not considered. The long-term effects of rejecting the bid for adoptive motherhood for even such an ostensibly well-prepared mother, shall harm, greatly, the prospects of all Malawi's parentless children.

My hope is that Madonna will appeal and that the appeal judge is one with broader vision of the issues at hand. Every orphaned child would be better off with a family, than without one. It should be the first priority of the judges to facilitate the union of orphaned child with willing parents.

Ironically, and perhaps tellingly, the judge's decision not to allow Chifundo "Mercy" James, the benefit of a mother, shows that the state, in Malawi, does not value the life of the individual. Yet, the state, is Chifundo's only parent, in effect, now. This is not encouraging on the issue of what kind of "parent" the Malawian state makes. Certainly, it would have been better for Chifundo to have Madonna as a mother, than to have the orphanage as her only parents. The same applies to any and all Malawian children: an adoptive parent is better than no parent at all. I only wish the judge could see that.

(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged eight years and seven months, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, five years exactly, and Tiarnan, twenty-eight months, please go to: I also write of gifted education, IQ, intelligence, the Irish, the Malays, Singapore, College, University, Chemistry, Science, genetics, left-handedness, precocity, child prodigy, child genius, baby genius, adult genius, savant, wunderkind, wonderkind, genio, гений ребенок prodigy, genie, μεγαλοφυία θαύμα παιδιών, bambino, kind.

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 7:41 PM 


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hmm, I don't see how refusing Madonna the right to adopt a child is a signal to human traffickers that trafficking children will not be easy.


Madonna is not a human trafficker.

12:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Valentine,

I guess among other things, one could say that this is a clash of worldviews, one of which is non-consequentialist in nature, and the other which is consequentialist in its orientation.

You say that the child in question has been denied a life full of opportunities, one which many of us cannot claim to have in our own lifetimes. This is true, and from this perspective, the child has been denied a chance of a lifetime.

The other view holds that Madonna has no right to trample upon Malawi law; and to some extent, that law would have its sympathisers. Rich or poor, (in)famous or not, there are some rules by which to abide before you can take a child out of Malawi.

In this case, the winner is Everyman, humanity (you included, if I am not incorrect to say): those astronomically richer than us are compelled to live by the same rules. The loser? Perhaps the child, an individual who, from your point of view, is consigned to a life of poverty.


9:48 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

I don't think it is a victory for humanity that a child should lose the chance of a family - irrespective of whether it means a super rich woman has had to obey "mortal" laws.

The orphanage is meant to care for its charges. Surely, it is an augmentation of such care to find a family for their charges? The state should not oppose such a welcome step in this little girl's life.

I think the whole thing is a pity, really...and that child, if she ever understands what she has missed out on, will probably know great regret at what could have been. She will have been forced to accept a life of restriction, instead of a life of amazing opportunity. That cannot be right.

Thanks for your comment.

12:24 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Re. Human trafficking.

You have a good point. It is quite ludicrous really. What they seem to be trying to say is to traffickers is: "If Madonna can't do it, how on Earth can you expect to?"

All they have really achieved, however, is to block great opportunity for one orphaned child. It is sad.

12:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This problem, is 100% a racial/ethnicity one. Singapore historically had seen its own.
Back in the 1940s and 50s, many Singaporeans particularly Chinese were made poor, and they had to nurse extended families, which include an overwhelming number of infants. It was quite a common practice that they ended up giving away children to others, even to non-Chinese families. And I am speaking from experiences which I knew.

The problem was that child adoption across different races was huge racial tension that the authority would not even wish to consider such cases, if they had to. Hence, everything went on covertly between the two different ethnic families, without anyone else knowing. In one way or another over time, the baby acquired a new name, new race and new family/father's name, rather covertly.

It's got nothing to do with human trafficking albeit their explanations. It's a cover-up for some fanatical leader's bull*** racial ideology of preserving composition, like Hitler did.

12:51 AM  
Blogger Daniel said...

I would hesitate to say that all kids in an orphanage in Malawi are consigned to the same unfortunate restricted life. Poverty (at least as traditionally defined) doesn't not precipitate unhappiness.

6:16 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Daniel...are you suggesting that life in an orphanage is superior to life as Madonna's daughter? The gulf in life opportunities could not be greater.

Yes. Money does not happiness make. However, poverty probably doesn't make much of a contribution to well-being either.

Clearly, Chifundo James would be better off with Madonna as a mother than an orphanage as her "parents".

Thanks for your comment.

6:56 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Re. Race

Yes, this could be a matter of race. The Malawian authorities might be unhappy with the colour of Madonna's skin. Their policy, now enacted, would if kept consistent, prevent almost all international adoptions. Therefore, only adoptions within poverty stricken Malawi would be possible. The reduction in opportunity for these children could not be greater in the circumstances.

6:58 PM  

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