In a surprise ruling, a Malawi judge has denied Madonna’s interim adoption application and has denied the singer’s request to take four-year-old Mercy Jones to the U.S. The process had appeared to be a slam-dunk, with the government having voiced support. The singer had previously skirted the country’s rule that an adoptive parent must be a resident in the country for 18 to 24 months when she took David Banda out of the country in 2006 and later completed the adoption process. But human rights groups in the country have been vocally opposed to the high-profile adoption, accusing the 50-year-old singer of “child trafficking” and bypassing laws because of her wealth and celebrity. Judge Esmie Chondo agreed. In a ruling following the hearing, which was held in private, he wrote: “By removing the very safeguard that is supposed to protect our children, the courts by their pronouncements could actually facilitate trafficking of children by some unscrupulous individuals who would take advantage of the weakness of the laws of the land.” There has been no word yet from the singer on whether she’ll appeal the ruling.