Russia debating ban on U.S. adoptions

High-ranking official says Americans abuse adoptees

By Nicholas Nehamas

Russian children, many of them orphans, eat their supper at a state-run school for visually and hearing impaired kids. (Reuters)

On the eve of a new agreement on adoption between Russia and the U.S., a high-ranking Russian official has said foreigners should be banned from adopting Russian children. Over the last 15 years, nearly twenty percent of international adoptions by American parents have come from Russia.

But on Monday, Pavel Astakhov, Russia’s ombudsman for children’s rights, told the Russian Parliament, or Duma, that greedy international adoption agencies profit off Russian kids, while neglectful American parents abuse them.

“Those who spin us tales about the happy lives that Russian children have in America, and their bright future there, are either involved in this business or are simply unscrupulous,” Astakhov said in comments carried by the state news agency RIA Novosti.

At the same parliamentary hearing, a senior member of Russia’s Foreign Ministry echoed some of Astakhov’s criticisms when he expressed concern over the fate of Russian kids in the U.S.

Speaking on background, a U.S. State Dept. official countered those charges, telling Latitude News that “the Department of State takes very seriously the welfare of children and particularly children who have been adopted from other countries. U.S. child protection laws and services apply to all children in the United States equally.”

Astakhov has not replied to repeated interview requests from Latitude News.

Since 1999, 45,000 Russian children have been adopted by Americans, but Astakhov has been a vocal critic of the process. In July,  he claimed that American parents abuse 28,000 adopted Russian kids every year. He’s also spoken out against the Ranch for Kids, a facility in Montana that cares for troubled children adopted from overseas, calling it a “trash can for unwanted children.”

Russian kids for Russian families

Astakhov argues that Russian children should stay in their own country.

“Do not believe the myths and hysterical warnings of those who try to convince us that foreign adoptions must not be banned because that would leave Russian orphans without a future – these are all lies,” he warned legislators in the Duma.

Pavel Astakhov at a press conference in Moscow last year. (Reuters)

But Astakhov’s stance is at odds with the official position of his government. After two years of negotiation, Russia and the U.S. signed a bilateral agreement this summer that would do more to regulate inter-country adoption. The deal also states that foreigners can only adopt Russian children if no Russian families are willing to take them.

Astakhov himself long supported the agreement, according to Chuck Johnson, president of the National Adoption Council in Virginia. In an interview with Latitude News, Johnson called the Russian’s about-face “perplexing.”

Around 700,000 children live in orphanages in Russia, where adoption isn’t an accepted part of the culture, though Johnson says that’s slowly starting to change. For now that means there’s no way to find homes for all of Russia’s orphaned children: there simply isn’t enough demand.

“I would agree with Astakhov that Russian children should stay in Russia, if there were Russian families willing to take them,” says Johnson. “But there just aren’t.”

Even if Astakhov’s threats are empty, they might still make American parents think twice about adopting from Russia.

And as tensions between the two countries increase, there’s evidence that’s already started to happen: last year, Americans adopted only 962 Russian kids, the lowest total since the U.S. State Department began tracking that number 15 years ago.