"Madonna Accused of Child Trafficking"

That was the provocative, above-the-fold headline in Cape Town's daily newspaper, the Cape Times, earlier this week. Human rights activists in Malawi leveled charges against Madonna of child trafficking, kidnapping and generally behaving like a bully as the pop icon tried to adopt a second child from one of Africa's poorest nations.

It's not just child rights activists or people in Malawi who are upset by Madonna's efforts to adopt a four-year-old girl, Mercy James, whose mother is dead and whose father is unaccounted for. South Africans are weighing in on the controversy and some are expressing concern that Madonna is using her celebrity and wealth to bypass laws that prohibit foreigners from adopting Malawian children. Many others are saying that Madonna could help thousands of African children with education, shelter and food for what it will cost to adopt and raise a single child.

Of course Madonna is using her wealth and fame to adopt Malawian children. It is that very status which allowed her to adopt a young Malawian boy, David Banda, a few years ago; and it is what may allow her second adoption request to also be met with success. I am not in a position to judge whether or not Madonna will be a good mother to these children, or whether the children would be better served by being raised by extended family members in their country of birth. I do believe, however, that child rights activists – while publicly criticizing Madonna's actions – are privately thrilled with the furor that has again been created around her adoption attempts.

Nongovernmental organizations concerned with child trafficking could send a press release to the media every day highlighting horrific conditions of vulnerable children and the story would be buried on the inside pages of daily newspapers – if it even made it into print. A superstar like Madonna, receiving preferential treatment in adopting children in a poor country like Malawi, is guaranteed to make headlines around the world. And nonprofit human rights organizations could never afford to pay for publicity like this.

Even Madonna's harshest critics – and they don't come much harsher than those accusing her of child trafficking and kidnapping – have to admit that it is Madonna who has put this issue on people's radar screens. If Madonna was not in Malawi trying to adopt an orphan, the media this week would not have been paying attention to the plight of orphans and vulnerable children around the world. At the end of the day, it is the very organizations that are now accusing Madonna of child trafficking whose work might benefit the most from the international attention her adoption of Malawian children has generated.