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Howard Altstein: Adoption ban elevates politics over protecting kids
April 30, 2013
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Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland recently met with the family of Sergei Magnitsky. The reasons for the meeting: in 2009, Magnitsky was jailed in Russia for exposing governmental corruption. While in prison, he died after allegedly being tortured. In December, with the energetic legislative support of Senator Cardin, Congress passed a statute, the Magnitsky Act, forbidding those accused of human rights abuses in Russia from travelling to the US. This month, the Magnitsky family came to Washington to thank Senator Cardin for his efforts.

In retaliation for the passage of the act, on Jan. 1, Russia ratified the Dmitry Yakovlev Act, barring Americans from adopting Russian-born children. Dmitry Yakovlev was a 3-year-old, Russian-born adoptee who died of heatstroke after being left in a car by his American adoptive parents. His was apparently not the only death of a Russian child adopted in the US. In March, a Texas grand jury found no evidence to bring criminal charges against Dmitry’s adoptive family, and a high-level Russian committee investigating the death of Magnitsky found no foul play.

Both the American and Russian legislation produced strong internal reactions. In Russia, demonstrations were held in support of and against ending US citizens’ access to Russian children. Russians supporting the ban called those who opposed it “enemies of Russian sovereignty.” Others were equally vocal in opposing the ban on US adoptions. Reactions to the ban were also seen in diplomatic dealings between Moscow and Washington.

In late January, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, in his annual news conference, said he supported the ban on US adoptions. Shortly thereafter, Russia’s child rights commissioner was quoted as saying, “It’s a shame that Russia is giving away its children. America does not give away its children, does it?” A month later, when newly installed Secretary of State John Kerry met with his Russian counterpart, one of the items he raised was lifting Russia’s decision to ban US adoptions.

Some social scientists from the very beginning (mid-1950s) warned that this type of human transfer could be perceived as a reincarnation of 19th century Western imperialism. In any event, the end of inter-country adoption from Russia should not have come as a complete surprise. Russia had been reducing the number of children it allowed Americans to adopt. The Magnitsky statute gave the Russians the excuse to end it. Even though some 60,000 Russian-born children have been adopted by US citizens since the end of the Soviet Union, in 2011 Russia allowed Americans to adopt only 748 of their children.

What Russia’s behaviour demonstrates once again is the vulnerability of and ease with which international adoption from any country, no matter how historically reliable and consistent a source, can fall prey to domestic needs of the sending country. Witness some of the families who are currently caught in the quagmire of attempting to adopt children born in Central America. What, then, is the alternative for those wanting to internationally adopt? There are approximately 100,000 US-born children currently available for adoption. These children are here in the US, within our borders – waiting for a family.


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