Sun, Oct 08, 2006 - Page 19 News List

Bargain basement babies

A long list of celebrites has chosen to adopt children from abroad, including Joan Crawford, Mia Farrow and Angelina Jolie. But with many children in their home countries needing loving homes, should they be building `rainbow' families?

By Emine Saner  /  THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

Actor Brad Pitt holds Angelina Jolie's daughter Zahara upon his arrival at Tokyo's international airport at Narita. Pitt became the adoptive father of Angelina Jolie's children.

PHOTO: AP

So Madonna has adopted a one-year-old boy from Malawi. Or has she? There have been denials from her people but it’s not so unbelievable, is it? After all, she wouldn’t be the first. She has been thinking about it for months, apparently, and in July, her father-in-law let slip that Madonna and her husband, Guy Ritchie, had started the process. The pop star was in the southern African country this week visiting orphanages. It had been reported that 12 children were “selected,” from which she would choose a little brother for her children Lourdes, nine, and Rocco, six. “She asked us to identify boys only, which we have done after visiting four orphanages,” a government spokeswoman, Adrina Michiela, is reported to have said.

By now, developing countries must be used to celebrities swooping in to choose children like pick ’n’ mix candy. It’s the “rainbow” (her word) approach to families that the actress Angelina Jolie advocates. “It’s a very special thing,” she has said. “There’s something about traveling somewhere and finding your family.”

She adopted her son, Maddox, four, from Cambodia and her daughter, Zahara, 18 months, from Ethiopia (Jolie and Brad Pitt also have a biological daughter, Shiloh). Jolie has talked about adopting again, from another country. “We don’t know which country,” she told CNN. “But we’re looking at different countries. It’s going to be the balance of what would be the best for Mad and for Z right now. It’s, you know, another boy, another girl, which country, which race would fit best with the kids?”

Celebrities adopting children is nothing new. Joan Crawford raised four adopted children and Mia Farrow started adopting children from developing countries in the 1970s. Of her 14 children, 10 were adopted, some from poverty-stricken countries including Korea and Vietnam (notoriously, her former partner Woody Allen later married her adopted daughter Soon-Yi).

Other celebrities have also adopted from abroad. Meg Ryan adopted her daughter Daisy from China and Ewan McGregor and his wife Eve, who have two children of their own, have adopted a four-year-old Mongolian girl.

While adopting from abroad can be commendable (although some experts warn of displacement and identity issues down the line), you can’t help feeling that picking up a malnourished but photogenic child is sometimes more about a celebrity’s image (not to mention that they need not suffer stretchmarks or caesarean scars). Even Jessica Simpson, a pop star whose only involvement so far in international issues seems to have been beaming her MTV reality show Newlyweds to a global audience, is thinking of adopting from abroad. “I think Angelina Jolie has done amazing things, and the international adoption rate since her has skyrocketed,” she told one US television program.

Should this attitude be a cause for unease? Of course, there are children in developing countries who need help but wouldn’t it be better if celebrities gave most of their vast fortunes away to help orphans and refugee children in their country of origin, rather than “rescuing” a child and transporting it to Beverly Hills? There are also many children in the US and in the UK who are waiting to be adopted. Some celebrities have chosen domestic adoptions (Calista Flockhart, Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, Sharon Stone and Michelle Pfeiffer have all adopted children in America) so what would stop Madonna, who is based mainly here in the UK, choosing to adopt a British child?

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