By Madeline Schiesser
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe
MOSCOW, Russia – Russian President Putin announced Thursday that he intends to sign into law an act that would ban American families from adopting Russian children. The act is part of several Russian legislative measures in response to the recently passed U.S. Magnitsky Act, which implements sanctions against Russians accused of human rights violations.
The announcement follows passage of the act by the Federation Council, Russia’s upper house of parliament, unanimously (143 senators present) Wednesday, and by the State Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament, last week in a vote of 441-7.
The ban would terminate the bilateral adoption agreement between Russia and the United States and forbid U.S. adoption agencies from working in Russia, effectively halting adoption of Russian children by US families.
Mikhail Margelov, chairman of the Council’s foreign affairs committee, however, has stated that the agreement currently in place binds Russia to notify the U.S. of a halt in adoptions 12 months in advance.
Putin also said he plans to sign a presidential decree to improve Russia’s troubled child welfare system. Putin said the decree would “chang[e] the procedure of helping orphaned children, children left without parental care, and especially children who are in a disadvantageous situation due to their health problems.”
The legislation is also partly in response to several adoptions in recent years of Russian children by Americans that ended unfortunately. For example, in 2010, an American woman returned a 7-year-old boy to Russia, saying that he had behavioral problems and that she no longer wanted him. In 2008, a 21-month-old Russian boy died of heatstroke in July when his American adoptive father accidently left him unattended in a car for nine hours. The father was later found not guilty of involuntary manslaughter. Some Russian legislators are unofficially calling the adoption ban the Dima Yakovlev Bill in the boy’s honor.
Alexei Pushkov, chairman of the Duma’s Foreign Relations Committee, said: “Cases of the death of our children in the United States continue, and cases of not-guilty verdicts; we decided to take this tough decision to deprive Americans of the right to adopt Russian children.’
Last week at a press conference, President Putin, called the bill an “emotional but adequate” reaction to the Magnitsky Act, but expressed his desire to see the exact language of the bill before reaching a final conclusion. Putin further suggested that the majority of Russians “have a negative attitude toward adoption of our children by foreigners” and would support the ban. Putin discussed his intent to sign the bill with his senior government officials last Friday.
However, there has also been opposition to the bill. A petition, signed by 100,000 in opposition to the ban was filed with the Duma. Furthermore, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said last week that banning Americans from adopting Russian children would be “wrong.” Additionally, police have detained protestors both this week and last outside Parliament for protesting the ban.
Said one protestor: “These black mourning ribbons in our opinion symbolize today’s draft law which is useful neither for our children nor our national security and our priorities.”
Ilya Ponomaryov, a state Duma deputy, member of the opposition party A Just Russia, and one of the few legislators to vote against the ban stated directly: “As I’ve said many times: I think this law is absolutely outrageous, amoral, and despicable.”
Education Minister Dmitry Livanov, explained that an “eye-for-an-eye logic” would put at risk children who fail to find adoptive parents in Russia.
Last year, 3,400 Russian children were adopted by foreign families, and of those, 956 – nearly a third – were adopted by Americans, according to official figures. Eighty-nine of those adopted were disabled children, who often have a lower chance of adoption within Russia.
Due to increased regulations U.S.-Russian adoptions have declined over the past years, however, Russia is still the third largest source of adoptions for the U.S. Presently, there are about 740,000 children without parental custody in Russia, according to UNICEF. In the past two decades, American families have adopted more than 60,000 Russian children.
Currently, the adoptions of 46 Russian children to American families would be voided of the bill becomes a law, despite court rulings in some of the cases authorizing the adoptions.
“The children who have been chosen by foreign American parents . . . who were seen, whose paperwork was processed, who came in the sights of American agencies,” said Pavel Astakhov, Russia’s child rights commissioner and a major proponent of the ban, “[t]hey will not be able to go to America, to those who wanted to see them as their adopted children. There is no need to go out and make a tragedy out of it.”
The bill further contains language to outlaw U.S.-funded “nonprofit organizations that engage in political activity” by suspending and freezing their assets if they receive funding from US citizens or organizations or if their leaders or members are Russian citizens who have US passports. Under the bill, any nongovernmental organization (NGO) that engages in “political” work that “harms Russia’s interests” would be suspended and also have its assets frozen.
In Washington, D.C., State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell expressed the United States’ “concern” that “[t]he welfare of children is simply too important to be linked to political aspects of our relationship.”
“What’s particularly concerning here is in this present legislation, what this would do is prevent children from growing up in a family environment of happiness, love, and understanding. That’s the basic premise of our bilateral adoption agreement, it’s something we’ve worked for many months with the Russians on, and so really it’s Russian children who would be harmed by this measure.”
But Margelov, claims the bill is “a natural and a long overdue response [to the U.S. Magnitsky legislation].” He further stated that “[c]hildren must be placed in Russian families, and this is a cornerstone issue for us.”
For further information, please see:
New York Times – Putin Says He Will Sign Law Barring U.S. Adoptions – 27 December 2012
Al Jazeera – Protesters Arrested Outside Russia Parliament – 26 December 2012
BBC News – Russia’s Upper House Approves Ban on US Adoptions – 26 December 2012
Independent – Anti-US Adoption Bill Unanimously Endorsed in Russia – 26 December 2012
HRW – Russia: Reject Adoption Ban Bill – 21 December 2012
RFE/RL – Russian Duma Approves U.S. Adoption Ban – 21 December 2012
RFE/RL – Russian President Backs U.S. Adoption Ban – 20 December 2012
Al Jazeera – Russian Parliament Supports US Adoption Ban – 19 December 2012