Russia’s Adoption Politics: Defeated Families Caught in a Diplomatic Tailspin

Russian President Vladimir Putin plans to ban adoption of Russian orphans to U.S. families

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Elisabeth Smith

Elisabeth Smith, right, meeting the Russian boy she and her husband Charles are hoping to adopt

In late October, Charles and Elisabeth Smith from Phoenix traveled to Borodino, Russia, to meet their prospective son, Malcom (not his real name), a 5-year-old with cerebral palsy. “This little boy just tugged at our heart strings,” says Elisabeth. “It was not a rational response, but even when I saw his picture, he looked like my child. When I got to hold him and talk to him and be with him, it was a good fit.”

After accepting his referral from the orphanage, just one step in the long adoption process the Smiths started in March, they anticipated taking Malcolm home a couple months after the New Year.

That family reunion is now in flux.

On Friday, Russia President Vladimir Putin signed into law a ban that would cease adoption of Russian children by American families.

The ban, called the Dima Yakovlev Law, throws families like the Smiths and tens of thousands of Russian orphans into the middle of a political tit-for-tat that began with the U.S. passage of the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act. That law, named after a hedge-fund lawyer who exposed corruption among Russian officials and died while in prison, sanctions Russian officials whom the U.S. believes are guilty of corruption and human-rights violations in Russia. Putin and other officials have been openly critical of the law, and the ban is part of a broad-based attempt to reduce U.S. influence in the country. The ban is named after Dima Yakovlev, a Russian toddler who was adopted by American parents and died of heat stroke when his adopted father, Miles Harrison, left him in a car and was later acquitted of involuntary manslaughter.

On Wednesday, the Russian Federation Council unanimously passed the bill legalizing the ban. And in a statement that further crushed the hopes of hundreds of American families in the process of adopting Russian children, Russia’s child-rights commissioner and ban proponent, Pavel Astakhov, said that 46 pending adoptions will be blocked despite previous negotiations, according to the New York Times.

“I thought this would blow over, or there would be an accommodation for those of us who are so deeply into the process and have already met our children and whose children already think we are going to be there,” says Elisabeth. She has written to President Putin as well as Arizona Senator John McCain urging that the ban be reconsidered.

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Although China has recently surpassed Russia as the country providing the largest number of American adoptions, Russian children continue to be sought-after adoptees for U.S. families. Over the past 20 years, since the fall of the Soviet Union, nearly 60,000 Russian orphans have found new homes with American families. Last year alone, almost 1,000 orphans were welcomed to the U.S. But Putin and other Russian leaders are focused on another number: the 19 deaths of Russian children reported by the Virginia-based National Council for Adoption (NCFA) while they were under the care of their new U.S. parents. International media reports of a 7-year-old Russian boy who was sent back to Moscow on a plane alone in 2010 by his adopted American mother didn’t help matters.

Russian and U.S. officials had worked out reforms to better protect adopted children from such experiences, as well as potential violence, and the Bilateral Adoption Agreement made between the two countries went into effect on Nov. 1. The agreement requires the use of accredited agencies for adoptions, up to 80 hours of required training for adoptive parents and postadoption monitoring of children by Russian officials.

That cooperative spirit is dampened by news of the ban, however. “Obviously we are very saddened to think that adoptions will potentially end between Russia and the United States,” says Lauren Koch, director of development and communications for the NCFA. “This creates a really tragic situation for these orphans that are languishing in institutions in Russia when there are lots of loving warm families in America that want to bring them home and make them part of their family.”

Koch says that based on data from the NCFA’s member agencies, there are an estimated 1,500 American families in the process of adopting a child from Russia — getting their application in to an agency, obtaining visas, being matched with a child or even getting ready to travel to pick up their child.

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“All of these children deserve to have families. Regardless of how the Russians may view children with special needs in their own country, they cannot be used as a political ploy,” says Andrea Roberts, founder and executive director of Reece’s Rainbow Down Syndrome Adoption Ministry, a nonprofit that raises money to help families adopting children with Down Syndrome deal with high adoption costs. “No matter what arguments, no matter who is upset, this is between the governments; this has nothing to do with those children. It is wrong to put them in the middle of it for any reason.” According to Roberts, the organization is helping about 50 families currently in process of adopting from Russia.

According to reports, the ban would go into effect on Jan. 1, and also bar any political activity by U.S. supported nongovernmental organizations. American adoption-advocacy groups and hopeful parents are frantically pleading both U.S. and Russian officials to act compassionately.

Many, like 21-year-old Alexander D’Jamoos, have written letters and petitions to President Putin that were delivered to the Russian Embassy in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday. D’Jamoos was adopted from Russia when he was 15 years old after living his entire life in an orphanage with a disability that prevented him from walking. Since his adoption, D’Jamoos has undergone surgery to amputate his legs so he can wear prosthetics, and he recently climbed Mount Kilimanjaro.

(MORE: Putin Says He Will Sign Anti-U.S. Adoptions Bill)

“The law is taking away the fundamental right for a child to have a family,” says D’Jamoos. “The politicians are ignoring the fact that the country itself is not able to handle this issue very well at the moment. There is really no infrastructure to accommodate orphans when they graduate, especially if they are disabled.”

D’Jamoos returns to Russia almost every year and says he remains in touch with social workers and friends at the orphanage. “I see where all my friends are going. They are sent to a nursing home for all their lives or they are just out on the street. I’ve seen it so many times and I see what is happening to my friends. They’re shocked by the ban, but there is a strong nationalist movement in Russia and many people support it.”

In signing the law, Putin also vowed to introduce stronger measures to improve the care of orphans in Russia. But Russian activists aren’t convinced those policies would be sufficient and have spoken out against the ban. According to the Washington Post, the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported that 100,000 people had signed an online petition decrying the bill.

Currently, the U.S. Department of State is updating information for families adopting children from Russia on adoption.state.gov. Families currently in the adoption process can reach out to the Department of State at AskCI@state.gov. The department is asking families to use the subject line “Intercountry adoption in Russia — family update” and will provide information to families as it becomes available.

MORE: Russian Kids in America: When The Adopted Can’t Adapt

26 comments
INDIANA8JONES8
INDIANA8JONES8

It is unfortunate that a good number of kind-hearted northamerican families be caught in the middle of this legal impasse but -to be fair- the russian government has got a point...There have been quite a few documented cases of abuse against russian kids adopted by some dysfunctional USA families....More than one russian kid has lost his life because of such abuse...Furthermore, an eerie story about a ranch in some state of the USA, was published by RT News, by which Pavel Astakhov denounced the sequestration of several russian kids that were confined there by their adoptive parents in order to be "trained" or "adapted" to the northamerican way of life...When Astakhov tried to visit the ranch and have access to the kids, he never found them...They were gone with the wind...Accordingly to the story published by RT, Pavel Astakhov went for help  to the police (or the sheriff) of the town where this sordid ranch was located...Unfortunately, there was not much the police/sheriff could do about it...That is as far as the news covered the story... I must admit, though, I felt deeply impressed by that story and could not help but feeling extremely sorry for those ill-fated russian kids...What happened to them?  Where are they?  Of course there are a lot of wonderful USA citizens looking for the opportunity to adopt and have a nice family...Too bad that because of those others that adopted russian kids only to beat them and  neglect them, the well-intentioned families have to suffer the consequences...Yet, it is perfectly understandable that Putin may want to sign the ban bill ... I would...

sifferlin56
sifferlin56

Alexandra: Very nice review. Very complex issue. You dove deep for this one. Politics is the evil of any progress in this twisted world. Hopefully "doing the right thing" will win out. Keep up the good work.  Dano

bibleverse1
bibleverse1

Is there an advantage to adopting kids from Russia and not US?

repaidin
repaidin

23,000 children in the US in need of adoption. Why would an American bypass needy children here and go to Russia or Romania to adopt a child? Simple answer -- kids in Russia are white.

GuillermoOrtegaTanus
GuillermoOrtegaTanus

As painful as it could be for the parents in the middle of the adoption process I do not understand why Russia has to be so important. There are so many other countries and kids in need out there.  This ban only affects Russian kids.

ChuckSampson
ChuckSampson

"But Putin and other Russian leaders are focused on another number: the 19 deaths of Russian children reported by the Virginia-based National Council for Adoption (NCFA) while they were under the care of their new U.S. parents."

Kind of stupid how the author throws out this compelling fact without elaborating. This is a prime example of the deteriorated state of today's journalism. This statement creates more questions in my mind than answers and also makes me somewhat sympathetic with the Russian position. 

If people have to go overseas to adopt children in order to avoid the adoption process in the USA, then either the adoption process in the US needs to be reformed or these people shouldn't be allowed to adopt from anywhere. 


Read more: http://healthland.time.com/2012/12/28/russias-adoption-politics-defeated-families-caught-in-a-diplomatic-tailspin/#ixzz2GRfI35X9

HeatherStull1
HeatherStull1

I don't understand why people can't be bothered to adopt children FROM THE COUNTRY THEY LIVE IN!  Do they think the USA has a shortage of orphans??     Help our children first, then when we have no more orphans, work on Russia, China etc. 

KabsKubs
KabsKubs

I'm wondering as to what Russia is up to with their surplus of kids... 

JohnNewcomb
JohnNewcomb

By cynically tying the Russian Duma anti-adoption ban to the US Magnitsky Act, Putinist Russia once again shows that harming innocent Russian children to avenge rich Russian bureaucrats who want to go New York to check on their real estate investments and do a little shopping is the name of their game.

Another sign of cynicism is that Putinist Russia did not take the logical first step to reduce corruption and increase the orphan protection by ratifying and activating the Hague Adoption Convention that it signed back in 2000. US, UK, China and many others are Convention countries - but not Russia. Why not?

And breaking the recent US-Russia adoption treaty is another gesture of cynicism about the fate of Russian orphans.

TomSlick
TomSlick

GOD has FINALLY put HIS foot DOWN! He gave us the United States of America, a FREE Nation..by BRINGING CHILDREN from OTHER Nationalities we are DEPLEATING OUR American Blood! Marrying into Differant Nationalities DEPLEETS the PURENESS of the American People! Sorry about YOUR loss but..there are MANY FOLD of AMERICAN Children who DERSERVE the FIRST PICK and NOT turning YOUR back on YOUR own! I say, KUDOS and I PRAY the GOD will make the OTHER COUNTRIES do the same! CHAIRTY BEGINS at HOME, ADOPT AMERICANS, not some Russian who will grow up to hate Americans like they are SUPPOSED to!  RUSSIA is VERY SMART to do this...YOU will  LOVE YOUR OWN kind MANY times more than a Russian Kid or some other Nationality!!!   MY Father was Hungarian...MY MOTHER was Welesh...NOW, I pay the price of being WELL HUNG....stay with AMERICAN KIDS!!!  GOD was Correct in doing this!!!

noinhibitionsnow
noinhibitionsnow

It seems a shame that this is what Russia has to do in order to try and maintain their facade of significance.

fubar.kiss
fubar.kiss

Don't know where the problem is. Lots of little kids in the US need adopting, do them and forget the russians or the chinese or the ________insert nationality here_______. Adults here can get/adopt black, pink, tan, brown, any color. Dumb!!

CoreyMcDonald
CoreyMcDonald

This is so dumb. It would be like if your neighbor was so mad at you for parking in front of his house that he won't let his kid mow your lawn anymore. The only person that really loses out is the kid. You can just as easily get someone else to mow your lawn.

CharlesJones265
CharlesJones265

I don't know how the commenters below derive racism out of american couples adopting children with special needs, such as the child with cerebral palsy or the child whose legs were amputated mentioned in the article. The extremely arduous and expensive process of international adoptions, coupled with the difficult and expensive assistance the adopted child requires once in America speak of nothing but self-sacrificing love.

laquitaemerson
laquitaemerson

Terrible for the families already in the process. However, I do hope that the ban has the silver lining of encouraging Americans to adopt domestically. There are many wonderful children here who are waiting for forever families. If something believes they are capable of handling a 4 year old with special needs who doesn't speak English, they can handle a four year old with special needs who is English-speaking. The barrier to domestic adoption is often racial, with prospective parents yearning for a child who resembles them or fearful of the reaction of their family and friends to a nonwhite child. 

reinertorheit
reinertorheit

Why do Americans want to adopt in Russia - when there are thousands of children in the USA wanting adoption, and immediately available?  The answer, of course, is racism.  You adopt a Russian, and you get a WHITE kid.

This appalling situation has to be stopped.

A bunch of whackjob neonazi crazies in the USA - including John-Bomb McCain, John Bolton, Jeb Bush, and every loony from Mutt Dumbney to William Kristoll - has formulated a Cold War policy against Russia,  which has been falsely named the "Magnitsky Act", although it has nothing whatsoever to do with the Magnitsky case at all.

Well, Elmer Fudd - the payback's a bitch.  You want a Cold War - you got one!!!  Blow it out your 600lb butthole. 

bojimbo26
bojimbo26

Politics raises its ugly head .

jlhopkins114
jlhopkins114

@HeatherStull1 You apparently dont indeed understand very much about adoption.  It is good that you know this, but perhaps before you start spouting off an opinion you can seek to educate yourself.  Because of our policies promoting family reunification and protecting biological parent rights, prospective adoptive families can face many difficulties and heartache trying to adopt domestically.  There actually is a shortage of young, legally freed children in the US.  Bioparents change their minds, they seek visits and plan and then disappear, then show up again.... Family courts drag out foster care cases until children have bounced around the system for years and become troubled and challenging.  Since you feel free to judge these other families who seek to provide a loving home to a needy child overseas I sincerely hope that YOU are adopting domestically.  Or can't you be "bothered"?

pendragon05
pendragon05

@HeatherStull1 it is very difficult to adopt a needy American child (as well as very expensive) to weed out the wannabe Wards and Junes.

jlhopkins114
jlhopkins114

@laquitaemerson I'm curious whether you have ever spoken with families adopting internationally in order to determine their motivation?  There are many motivations but in this case- little Malcolm with CP- it is because of humanitarian concerns.  Children with special needs like Malcom move to adult mental institutions at age 5 where they are neglected, tied up in cribs, starved, and abused- the majority dying young.  Once you see for yourself what happens to them, a normal heart become compassionate and wants to help.  In our country, the situation is not so dire- we dont have institutions like this.  Medical care is always provided and a child like Malcom is quickly adopted if legally freed.  Mind you, biological parents often remain in the picture which can be difficult.  Many of the families adopting special needs children have no concern whatsoever about race and indeed may have children of different races in their home.  They have already crossed the barrier of the concept of "perfect" child and this is not how they think.  Personally I wont judge anyone who seeks to adopt a needy child- ANY needy child.

Hadrewsky
Hadrewsky

@reinertorheit 

I see your knowledge of the issue is only surpassed by your lack of dignity and the pathetic nature of your language skills.


butthole indeed

CoreyMcDonald
CoreyMcDonald

@reinertorheit A lot of people want to adopt a kid that looks like it could have spawned from them. This is mostly just so the whole family unit feels more normal. It's not racism. It's just a desire for conformity. Not everyone wants to stand out like Angelina Jolie.

KristiKerr
KristiKerr

@reinertorheit Wow.  That's incredibly ignorant of the true reasons people adopt internationally.  I'm guessing you've never researched the domestic adoption situation truly, or else you wouldn't make such false and cold hearted accusations against loving families. 

superlogi
superlogi

@reinertorheit If you're a white family and you adopt a white kid in the US, are you a racist?  I suspect only if you're a registered Republican, right?