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21 Dec, 2012 08:55

Russian parliament approves ban on US adoption of Russian kids

Russian parliament approves ban on US adoption of Russian kids

The State Duma voted to approve the controversial act in the third and final reading despite strong opposition from the public, activists, mass media and state officials.

420 of 450 Lower House members voted in favor of the Dima Yakovlev bill and seven voted against with one abstention.Protesters have picketed the State Duma office, and press and social networks continue to grill the MPs as bill was discussed in the parliament.The police have been allowing the dozen or so picketers stand outside the building, unlike during the second reading when the single-person demos were dispersed. The bill includes an amendment banning US citizens and organization from taking any part in adoptions of Russian orphans. Journalists from the Novaya Gazeta newspaper sent the Duma Chairman a petition signed by more than 100,000 people in support of quashing the adoptions ban. According to President Putin’s promises, which he reiterated at his annual press conference on Thursday, any petition with more than 100 000 signatures must be considered by parliament.On Friday Deputy Duma speaker Yuri Neverov confirmed that the Lower House would consider the petition, but added that it will only happen in January.

The whole bill, that was named after Dima Yakovlev, a two-year old Russian who died from heatstroke after his adoptive US father left him locked in a car on a hot day, is a reply to the US Magnitsky Act – the recently approved entry ban and asset freeze on Russian tax, law and court officials who, in view of the authors of the act, are guilty of violations of Human Rights. Russia has blasted the Magnitsky Act as an attempt to influence justice in a sovereign country. Russian politicians also promised their country would retaliate and prepared the Dima Yakovlev bill that also imposed a Russian visa ban and an asset freeze on US citizens who are allegedly complicit in violating the human rights of Russians. However, after the Russian bill passed its first parliamentary reading last week, two MPs representing the majority party United Russia and the nationalist faction LDPR suggested amending it with a US adoption ban. The move immediately caused an outcry in Russian media and social networks. People accused the politicians of turning orphans into hostages and claimed that thousands of children lost their chance of finding a family and sometimes for getting sponsorship and care which their lives depend on. Human Rights activists, both from NGOs and official bodies,also blasted the bill for targeting innocent people and the Russian Foreign and Education Ministers also said they disagreed with the measure and called upon parliament to cancel it.

However, the Russian PM and head of the parliamentary majority party United Russia, Dmitry Medvedev, said he supported the ban on US adoptions, adding that Russia must emphasize the development of domestic adoptions. Initiators of the amendments and presidential plenipotentiary for children’s rights said that the ban was a part of the older and broader program with the ultimate objective to bring foreign adoptions to zero. Despite protests, on Wednesday the MPs approved the Dima Yakovlev bill with the US adoption ban included. On the same day, 30 people were detained and fined for protesting outside the State Duma office in the freezing cold.Vladimir Putin repeatedly addressed the issue of adoptions at the Thursday press conference and said that he also fully supported the move as it was not against the adoption as such, but against the United States justice that is often ignoring or treating with leniency the cruel treatment of Russian adopted children by their adoptive parents. Besides, Putin called the situation when Russian officials are barred from taking part in the investigations ‘a humiliation’ and said that it should be ended.At the same time, the Russian President promised to take another look at the amendment on adoptions as well as at the recently signed Russia-US adoption agreement, before signing the Dima Yakovlev bill into law.The Upper House will consider the bill on December 26, according to Deputy Speaker Svetlana Orlova. However, the President has the final say over the issue.

US Ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul said in a statement that Washington was seriously concerned over the adoption of the Dima Yakovlev bill as in his view it makes the fate of orphans dependent on political moves.

As the bill was discussed for the third time the head of the Lower House Committee for Mass Media raised the question of media coverage of the issue. Aleksey Mitrofanov called some of the articles “over the top”, in particular drawing attention to the phrase “an educated US family will adopt a mentally retarded State Duma deputy” from a Novaya Gazeta article. The MP also added that social networks made him quarrel with his wife, who is an active Facebook user. The State Duma Chairman instructed the Mass Media Committee to look into Mitrofanov’s complaints and issue a resolution on the subject. “Any insult is unacceptable, including the insults to State Duma deputies as they are insults to the legislative body of our state and insults our voters,” Sergey Naryshkin noted.

The Lower House also agreed to create a special commission on adoptions to radically change how Russia tackles the problem. According to Deputy Duma Speaker Sergey Neverov, the commission will include representatives of all parliamentary factions and will gather for the first time on Monday. Public groups, regional representatives, reporters and officials from various ministries were invited to take part in the commission’s work, he added.In addition, the MPs approved a call to the government to speed up the development of bills aimed at reducing the numbers of children in orphanages and improving adoption by Russian citizens. It also proposes to strengthen public control over orphanages and boost the financial aid to adoptive parents and orphans.