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Russian society split over bill set to ban US adoptions

Russian society split over bill set to ban US adoptions
A proposed new law banning US citizens from adopting Russian children is dividing society, some say it will hit the country's weakest, others see it as a necessary measure. It is still before the Duma, after approval at the committee stage.

­The legislation is set to ban the adoption of Russian kids by US individuals, as well as prohibiting American organizations acting as intermediaries aiding adoptions. The law is “a symmetrical reaction” to the Magnitsky act recently agreed by the American Senate.

Human rights activists, as well as the Internet community, are crying foul over the legislation. Online petitions against the law have been launched, with some collecting over 20,000 signatures. On Wednesday, a demonstration against the law is due to take place in Moscow, with over 700 people expected to attend, according to the rally’s page on Facebook.

Critics say that the new law will hit those who are most in need of help; Russia’s physically and mentally challenged orphans.

“Americans can now only adopt those kids whom Russian citizens refuse to adopt, or sick children. That’s a prerequisite dictated by the Russian law. Due to the kids’ health, they have no chance to be adopted here in Russia. These political games hit where it really hurts, there is no doubt about that,” Tatyana Terekhova, the head of the NGO “The Gladney Center for Adoption” (USA) in Russia told RIA Novosti.

Russian politicians are divided over the legislation. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov believes “it is wrong” to ban adoptions, but is optimistic the State Duma will come up with a more balanced solution.

Those sentiments are echoed by Minister of Education Dmitry Livanov who Tweets, “this is a ‘tit for tat’ logic which is wrong because children may suffer if no adoptive parents are found for them in Russia.” However, Livanov is facing criticism from some members of parliament who claim his ministry wants Russian children to be adopted by Americans so it doesn’t have to deal with orphan-related problems at home.

One of the authors of the controversial legislation, the deputy representative of the State Duma’s committee for social and religious organizations, Ekaterina Lakhova doesn’t understand the hype over the law, “We have no problems with adoption in France, Italy, and other European countries because their legislation allows us to control the fate of an adopted child. However, in the US legislation [on adoption] varies from state to state, and it often happens that the child adopted by one family is transferred to another foster family. This has happened many times.”

The Russian children’s ombudsman Pavel Astakhov supports the legislation, saying the law “should have been approved, and adoptions banned, as early as 2010.” The ombudsman also says a new deal with America, which was adopted, but not ratified, in July, is not improving matters. Astakhov highlights how the US authorities have denied diplomatic access to Maksim Babayev, a six-year-old Russian boy who suffered psychological and physical abuse at the hands of his adoptive parents in the US. “If this is happening now, how will this agreement work in the future?” Astakhov says. The ombudsman stresses he is against all international adoptions.

On Wednesday the Lower House is to consider the second reading of the bill which carries the name of Dima Yakovlev, a two-year-old boy who died of suffocation when his American foster father forgot him in a locked car in hot weather.

American citizens have adopted around 60,000 Russian children over the past 20 years, with 19 recorded deaths among their number. During the same period, 1,500 orphans died in Russian adoptive families, according to data provided by the Russian Prosecutor-General’s Office. In 2011, American citizens adopted over 950 Russian children, with 89 of them disabled, which puts the US in the first place in foreign adoptions.

The law against US adoption is seen as a response to the Magnitsky Act, approved by the US Senate on December 6 and signed by President Obama on December 14. It imposes an entry ban and a freeze of US-held assets on a group of Russian members of parliament, law and court officials who were allegedly complicit in the death of Sergey Magnitsky, an accountant for a British investment fund who died in pre-trial detention after being arrested for tax fraud.