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Analysis & Opinion
26.07.11 The Most Vulnerable Citizens
By Pavel Koshkin

The adoption of Russian children by American families remains a thorny issue, but that could be about to change following the introduction of a Russian-American bilateral agreement on adoption, signed last week by Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his American counterpart Hillary Clinton. But while experts view this agreement as a step toward preventing child abuse in American adoptive families, problems remain. The First Russian-American Child Welfare Forum, scheduled to take place in Russia the first week of August, will further address the issues that still stand in the way of Russian children finding a good home in the United States.

The adoption agreement, signed by Moscow and Washington last Wednesday, came in response to events last April, which shocked and enraged many in Russia. Seven-year-old Artem Saveliev was sent back to Russia by his American stepmother Torry-Ann Hansen, who said in a note to Russia’s Education Ministry that she didn’t want “to parent this child” anymore and described him as “severe” and “mentally unstable.”

Shortly after, the United States and Russia began negotiating a document that would strengthen procedural safeguards in adoptions between the two countries “to better protect the welfare and interests of children and all parties involved in inter-country adoptions,” a statement from the U.S. Department of State said. The agreement will enter into force only when “both sides have completed the internal procedures,” which means it must first be approved by Russia’s State Duma.

According to the agreement, only authorized adoption agencies will be able to assist American citizens in adopting Russian orphans, thereby helping to prevent so-called independent adoptions from Russia (when prospective parents act on their own behalf). In addition, the new document is expected “to improve post-adoption reporting and monitoring” and to guarantee that potential adoptive parents receive more information about an orphan’s social and medical records, the U.S. Embassy Web site states.

Russia’s Children’s Rights Ombudsman Pavel Astakhov sees the agreement as a positive development: “American families have officially adopted more than 60,000 Russian children over the past 18 years,” he said in an interview to the Echo of Moscow radio station. “I couldn’t understand how it was possible to be involved in such serious activity without an agreement.” The Saveliev case was a good pretext to come up with a document that would make adoption agencies and American families responsible for the orphans’ future.

Nonetheless, it remains unclear whether the new document will solve the problem. The agreement will likely complicate the work of American adoption agencies operating in Russia (there are over 30 of them at present). Each one will have to submit all the required documentation on their activity to Russia’s Education Ministry within 60 days of the agreement comes into force, in order to continue operating in Russia.

Many Russians are also suspicious of international adoption following a series of tragic incidents that have taken place over the past 18 years. At least 17 Russian kids have died as a result of abuse in American adoptive families. In an Internet poll conducted by the Echo of Moscow radio station following the Saveliev case, over 30 percent of respondents supported suspending adoption by U.S. citizens, while around 67 percent opposed it.

Controversial media coverage of child abuse in the United States has further fueled the debate on adoption by U.S. citizens, leading Russian authorities to the brink of imposing a moratorium on it. Some Russian media even claimed that adoptions between Russia and the United States had indeed been suspended. However, the moratorium never actually entered into force, said Veronica Kochetova, Astakhov’s press secretary. Indeed, Russia can’t ban international adoption because that would require amending the Russian Family Code and other sophisticated bureaucratic procedures, Astakhov told daily Rossiiskaya Gazeta in January. Indeed, some articles of Russian Family Law state that foreign citizens have the right to adopt Russian children, but only in cases when relatives or Russian citizens are not willing to adopt them.

The media hype surrounding Saveliev’s case also led to a significant drop in the number of adoptions by U.S. citizens. Statistics from the U.S. Department of State show that 2010 saw 1,079 adoptions from Russia, while in the previous year, more than 1,586 Russian children were adopted by Americans. There has notably been a five-fold decrease in the number of adoptions since 2004, when 5,862 Russian kids found an American home.

The increasing popularity of adoption among Russian potential parents has played a role in this decline. While in 2004, the number of foreign families adopting (9,419) exceeded the number of Russian families adopting (6,914), 2009 saw a three-fold drop in international adoptions (3,815) and a rise in the number of Russian adoptive families (8,938), according to Russia’s Education Ministry. The rising trend of in-country adoptions was partially a result of the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC), ratified by the Soviet Union in 1990, which states that inter-country adoption is “an alternative means of childcare” that is possible only “if the child cannot be placed in a foster or an adoptive family or cannot in any suitable manner be cared for in the child's country of origin.”

Russia’s regional courts have also begun paying closer attention to the issue. For instance, last month the Deputy Governor of the Kemerovo Region Elena Rudneva restricted American adoptions of Russian children after a 16-year-old girl from the region, adopted by an American family eight years ago, was raped by her American stepfather. Due to its turbulent history, to this day every adoption request on behalf of American citizens is met with suspicion in Russia, and requires case-by-case analysis, which seriously affects the international adoption record. However, the Russian-American bilateral adoption agreement and the First Russian-American Child Welfare Forum (RAF) that will be held this August on Lake Baikal, may positively affect the situation.

“We have been working for the past 30 years in the identification and treatment of children who are neglected or become victims of physical and sexual abuse,” Ronald Hughes, the RAF co-organizer and the president of the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children (APSAC), said in a press-release. “This is our chance to share this knowledge with our colleagues in Russia and to hold a dialogue on ways to ensure the safety of our countries’ most vulnerable citizens.”
The source
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