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8 Apr, 2010 15:57

American mother sends adopted 7-year-old back to Russia – by himself

A seven-year-old boy arrived at a Moscow airport from the United States on Saturday morning. “I refuse him”, read the note the boy carried with him.

Russia’s ombudsman for children’s rights, Pavel Astakhov, says the child was adopted in Russia around six months ago by an American woman.

After she understood she really didn’t want the child any longer, 27-year-old Torry Ann Hansen decided the best way to solve the problem was simply to ship the boy back to Russia – alone on a transatlantic flight.

This is where the confusion begins as Artyom Justin Hansen’s boarding pass puts his age at 8 years – in which case, under United Airlines regulations, he is allowed to board connecting flights.

But according to Artyom’s birth certificate, he is only seven years old, so United Airlines should never have allowed him on that plane.

The Moscow press office of the US airline is refusing to comment.

If this weren’t bad enough, he was traveling on an expired visa, and how he got through customs and immigration services both in Washington DC and Moscow has not been explained.

When the boy arrived in Russia, he was met at the airport by a private tour guide. In the US, the boy was given an envelope with US$ 200 to give to the guide who was supposed to pick the child up at the airport and take him to the Ministry of Education in Moscow.

However, the child did not have any idea where he was going and why he was put on the flight.

“It is monstrous, immoral and illegal” – Medvedev

“It is a monstrous deed on the part of his adoptive parents, to take the child and virtually throw him onto an airplane heading in the opposite direction. To say, ‘I’m sorry I could not cope with it, take everything back’ is not only immoral but also against the law,” Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said in an interview with ABC News.

“We should understand what is going on with our children or we will totally refrain from the practice of adopting Russian children by American adoptive parents. I can only say we are alarmed by the tendency,” Medvedev said.

The case was the last straw for the authorities in Moscow who say that seventeen adopted Russian children have died in America since 1992.

The Russian Foreign Ministry wants all adoptions of Russian children by US citizens suspended.

“Russia’s Foreign Ministry will insist on all adoptions of Russian children in the US being banned until our countries sign a treaty to regulate the conditions of such adoptions. This will establish the responsibilities of the adoptive families. We’ve discussed this with the US before. They’ve tried to avoid doing this, but this latest incident has exhausted our patience,” Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said.

Russia intends to reach bilateral agreements with other countries in order to protect Russian children adopted by foreign citizens, head of Russia’s State Duma Foreign Affairs Committee, Konstantin Kosachev told Itar-Tass news agency.

“Such cases are villainous, absolutely not acceptable and this must not happen under any circumstances,” Kosachev said. “A different, new in-principle legislative mechanism of protecting children that become a subject for international adoption is needed.”

This mechanism is obviously clear – it is “bilateral agreements on adoption,” Kosachev added.

Pavel Astakhov says the procedure for returning an adopted child has been violated.

“We face such situations when adopters return adopted children quite often within the first year, including international adoptive parents, though it happens less frequently. But, nonetheless, there is a procedure. They were to send a corresponding application to the guardianship bodies, social protection authorities in the US. In America there is a child service which is in charge of children protection. And they were to send a corresponding application,” Pavel Astakhov said.

“But the mother decided to make her life easier, as she writes in her application, and says that she abandoned the child because she does not want him to destroy her life, her family, and lose her friends. She thinks that she has been misled as to what the boy was going to be like. But we have the boy’s history and we can see that he is a normal boy and has no mental or physical abnormalities, he is psychologically stable. Our task now is to find out what was the reason for the abandonment. The boy was taken to a hospital in order to find out whether he has any diseases, signs of beating or trauma. So if he’s fine, he will be in quarantine for two weeks and after that he will be sent to a child care center.”

However, no information was withheld from Artyom’s adoptive mother, Pavel Astakhov claims.

A year before adopting the boy, the American adoptive mother was clarifying whether he had any illnesses. But all the examinations show the boy to be completely healthy – physically and mentally. So nobody withheld anything from her. It’s a lie,” Astakhov said.

“She used to pull my hair”

Pavel Astakhov says he hopes American authorities will look into Torry Ann Hansen’s actions very thoroughly.

“This could be a case of child abuse. The boy has some old scars on his arms and legs,” Astakhov said.

The ombudsman asked Artyom how he was treated and what the foster family was like.

“I asked Artyom how he was treated and what the family was like. He said there was an older brother, Logan, who is 10. Artyom didn’t go to school, although he should have. The older brother didn’t go to school either. There was a grandmother who was at home with the boys. She used to shout at Artyom a lot. And when I asked how the mother treated him, he burst into tears and said she used to pull his hair,” Astakhov said.

According to the American Ambassador in Moscow, John Bayerle, an investigation has already begun.

“My wife and I are very shaken and angered by what happened to Artyom Justin Hansen. It’s hard to comprehend how the family that had officially adopted the child could have been so cruel to him. Right now we’re investigating all the circumstances of Artyom’s return to Russia in order to establish if there was a crime committed,” John Bayerle said.

Now Artyom is being treated at one of the hospitals in the Russian capital. According to a preliminary examination by doctors, his condition is satisfactory.

American psychotherapist Joe Soll says rejecting a child from an adoptive family is bound to have a serious negative impact on the boy's state of mind.

“When you remove a child from a family, no matter what the circumstances are, it’s a trauma. We don’t look at children who have been adopted as traumatized, but they are,” Soll said. “I don’t think people are educated at all to understand what adoption is really about.”

All the operations of the US agency involved in the adoption of Artem Saveliev have been halted by Russia’s Ministry of Education and Science.

"Until we find out all the circumstances of the case, we are suspending the permit to operate an adoption in Russia for the non-profit organization World Association For Children And Parents, which assisted in the adoption of children and monitor the conditions of their life and upbringing in the US," Alina Levitskaya, ministry representative, said.

This latest case is just one of many adoption scandals with Russian orphans and American adoptive parents being involved. In another case, a two-year-old boy died after his American adoptive father left him inside a car with temperature outside about 30 degrees Celsius.

Mirah Riben, who has written two critical books on adoption in the US, maintains that the process between Russia and America is unregulated and abuses have occurred in the past.

“There is a lack of regulations over these adoptions. The things that are taking place are very slipshod. Children have been horribly – physically, sexually, emotionally – abused, beaten, burned, murdered. This child, this most recent case, is actually luckier than some of the others – that he was just sent back,” she said.

Andrey Fedorov from Alaska international adoption agency says families who adopt a child should be closely monitored by social services, at least in the first couple of years.

“Every family should be screened and they should get much more attention from social workers, especially in the first couple of years when the child just came to the family and he is trying to adjust himself in this new environment. And, of course, this is a new environment for the [adopted] parents, too, so this situation should be under the control of the social services,” he said.

Russian attorney Margarita Zakiyan says international adoptions are becoming increasingly popular in Russia and more difficult to monitor.

“Unfortunately, today there are more children at local orphanages and Russian citizens are very reluctant to adopt them. That is why we get more and more cases of international adoptions,” Zakiyan explained. “Sometimes, due to the international concepts involved here, it is very difficult to safeguard, protect, monitor and screen those particular cases, because the children are not in Russia and they are under the regulation of international law.”