Malawi's highest court on Friday gave the thumbs-up to US popstar Madonna's bid to adopt a second child from the impoverished southern African country, citing her charity work in the country as proof she deserved four-year-old Mercy.
"I am extremely grateful for the Supreme Court's ruling on my application to adopt Mercy James," the pop superstar said in a statement. "I am ecstatic. My family and I look forward to sharing our lives with her."
The Supreme Court of Appeal in the southern city of Blantyre overturned a ruling by the High Court in April barring the 50-year-old singer from adopting a little sister for her adoptive son, David Banda, also from Malawi.
The High Court had declared Madonna ineligible to adopt Mercy as she had not been resident in the country for 18 months, despite that requirement being waived when the songstress and her ex-husband Guy Ritchie took charge of David in 2006.
The couple's adoption of the little boy was formalised last year.
Mercy's extended family placed her in care after her teenage mother died days after giving birth.
A bench of three appeals court judges agreed with Madonna's lawyers that Mercy would not be as well cared for in an orphanage as by the singer.
Every child had the right to the love of a family, the judges ruled.
The lower court's reasoning had been outdated given that people often had more than one place of residence, the judges found. Madonna was no "sojourner" in Malawi, where she had demonstrated her commitment to the welfare of the country's more than one million orphans through her Raising Malawi charity, they pointed out.
Madonna first met Mercy at Kondanani Children's Village, an orphanage just south of Blantyre in 2006 - the year she took David back to live with her in London.BR
A man claiming to be Mercy's father, James Kambewa, emerged earlier this year.
Kambewa, who works as a security guard in Blantyre, said he had not been aware Mercy was alive and vowed to oppose Madonna adopting her. Mercy's mother's family assented to the adoption.
Malawi's underfunded orphanages are teeming with children, some of whom have been put there because their families cannot afford to care for them. Many have lost one or both parents to the AIDS pandemic.
Madonna's adoption of Banda was shrouded in controversy, with some Malawian activists and Western commentators accusing her of using her celebrity status to circumvent the country's adoption laws. They had also argued she should support David's father, who is still alive, to keep the child.
Many ordinary Malawians had, by contrast, welcomed her initiative for lifting a child out of poverty.