Russian President Vladimir Putin says he will sign a bill making it a crime for Americans to adopt Russian children.
Putin’s announcement – the latest salvo in an ongoing geopolitical battle that has severely damaged relations between Russia and the U.S. – came as something of a surprise. Putin had previously speculated that such a move could violate international law as well as a bilateral agreement on adoption signed in November.
“I already received this draft law today from the [Russian parliament]. I have not seen any reason why I should not sign it, although I have to consider the final version and think everything over,” Putin told the Russian state news-agency RIA Novosti.
“There are probably many places in the world where the living standards are better than ours,” he continued. “Will we send all children there? Will we also move there [ourselves]?”
Putin was more even more direct in comments carried by The New York Times: “I intend to sign the law,” he said, “as well as a presidential decree changing 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.”
Adoption has become a point of nationalistic outrage in Russia, thanks to several high-profile cases of American parents abusing adopted Russian children. The adoption ban is unofficially named after Dima Yakovlev, a Russian toddler who died in Virginia in 2008 after his adoptive American father accidentally left him in a parked car for nine hours.
In an e-mail to Latitude News, a press spokesperson for the Russian Embassy in Washington D.C. says the adoption ban is in direct response to legislation passed by the U.S. Congress earlier in December. That bill, called the Magnitsky Act, criticized Russia for human rights violations and placed travel restrictions on Russian officials associated with the death in prison of Sergei Magnitsky, a corruption-fighting Russian lawyer.
“Because some bureaucratic scum will not be allowed into the U.S. for shopping, thousands of tiny children will be denied a normal life,” tweeted the Russian opposition leader Grigory Yavlinsky.
The adoption ban is attached to a larger bill that, among other things, imposes sanctions on American officials with ties to our prison at Guantanamo Bay, highlighting the importance of international adoption as a political issue in Russia.
The Scoundrel’s Law
There has been vocal opposition in Russia to the adoption ban, which has been dubbed the “Scoundrel’s Law” on social media websites. A liberal newspaper, Novaya Gazeta, collected over 100,000 signatures for an online petition calling for the ban to be rescinded. And Russia’s deputy prime minister for social affairs, Olga Golodets, even wrote a letter to Putin advising him that criminalizing U.S. adoption would likely violate international law. Revealing an unusual divide among Russia’s top officials, Putin’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov – who is normally critical of America on the issue – said he believes there is no need to change the status quo.
But public polling reveals 56 percent of Russians are in favor of the ban, with support highest among the elderly and those who live in Russia’s more rural provinces.
Estimates vary, but there are believed to be around 650,000 orphans in Russia, with 83,000 of them living permanently in orphanages and another 200,000 there temporarily. According to State Department data, Americans have adopted around 45,000 Russian children since 1991. Sky News reports that 19 of them have died, while over a similar time period more than 1,500 Russian children have died after being adopted by families in their own country.
Children in Russian orphanages, especially those outside the major cities, generally live in dismal conditions. The problem is even worse for those with disabilities. Many become addicted to drugs or alcohol upon their release, living on the streets and selling their bodies to survive.
But opposition to American adoption is intense.
In an Op-Ed in The Moscow Times called “Child Abuse is Routine in Russia,” Yulia Latynina collects some of the more outrageous reactions to international adoption:
Russian lawmakers have resorted to blatant lies to support their position. State Duma Deputy Yevgeny Fyodorov had the temerity to say that adopted Russian children are ‘slaves who are not even protected by U.S. law.’
State Duma Deputy Svetlana Goryacheva went even further, saying,’60,000 children have been taken to the U.S. from Russia. And if even one-tenth of these orphans were used for organ transplants or sexual pleasure, there will remain 50,000 who can be recruited for war against Russia.’
But the best comment yet in this charade came from archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, who said Russian children adopted by U.S. parents ‘do not go to heaven.’ What he failed to mention is that children who are not adopted and remain in Russia get to heaven much faster than they should — many before they reach 18.
Russia’s commissioner for children’s rights, Pavel Astakhov, has been particularly outspoken on the issue. He tells Russia Today that his goal is to outlaw all foreign adoptions. As Russians start to adopt more children, he claims, the government will be able to shut down most of its orphanages within five to seven years.
“We have already stepped on this path and we have no intention to turn from it,” he says.
But at the moment domestic adoption is not very popular in Russia. Reuters reports that in 2011 Russian families adopted 7,400 children. Foreigners took in 3,400.
We’re used to seeing Russia and the U.S. engage in arms races and trade wars during times of international tension.
But when did orphans become geopolitical pawns?