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Russia Just Voted To Stop Letting Americans Adopt Russian Kids

The Duma - Russia's power house of Parliament - voted in support of a bill that would ban American citizens from adopting Russian orphans

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A group of Russian orphans learn what “Dippin Sticks” are. Image: Robert Dann

There are over 700,000 orphans in Russia, and if the Russian Parliament has its way, not a single one will be adopted by Americans. The Duma, Russia’s lower house of Parliament, voted in support of a bill that would ban American citizens from adopting Russian orphans. The New York Times reports:

The vote in the Duma was 400 to 4, with 2 abstentions, and the enthusiasm among lawmakers showed a rare split at the highest levels of the Russian government. Several senior officials had spoken out against the ban, including some, like the foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, who are known for relatively hawkish views in dealing with the United States.

The bill was, apparently, in retaliation for a recent American law named after Sergei L. Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer who died in prison after being arrested on shaky grounds. Magnitsky had been trying to expose government tax fraud. The New York Times summarizes the American law:

The American law requires the administration to assemble a list of Russian citizens accused of abusing human rights, including officials involved in Mr. Magnitsky’s case, and to bar them from traveling to the United States and from owning real estate or other assets there.

Russia says it’s being unfairly singled out and pointed to America’s own history with human rights violations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Russian officials were reportedly furious and turned to this adoption law, which had been in the works in a less extreme form already. The original law was written to protect Russian children adopted by Americans. Russians point to a number of incidents in which their adopted orphans have suffered at the hands of Americans. In one case a toddler named Dmirtri Yakovlev died of heat stroke when he was left in a car for nine hours. In another case a woman put her 7-year-old adoptee on a plane back to Russia, all by himself.

Russian orphans often also have a hard time adapting to life in the United States. TIME reported in 2010:

Among those who have adopted school-age orphans from Russia, the Massis’ experience is not atypical. For a host of reasons, children adopted from that country — some 58,000 in the past two decades — tend to be older and more likely to arrive in the U.S. developmentally behind their American peers and in many cases reeling from the effects of substandard orphanage care and trauma suffered at the hands of their biological parents or fellow orphans.

For a generation, American adoptive parents of these children have coped, suffered and in some instances given up hope in relative obscurity, silenced by a popular adoption culture preaching that love can heal all in “forever families” — a term used to describe families formed via adoption.

Before it becomes law, there are two more votes and a final pass by the Russian President, Valdmir Putin. Many think it’s unlikely to be passed in the end. Reuters writes:

The Kremlin, worried about long-term damage to relations with Washington, distanced itself from the adoption measure on Wednesday, raising doubts about whether Putin will sign off on it.

Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov described the lawmakers’ initiative as “tough and emotional” and the Kremlin’s position as more “restrained”.

Many Russians also don’t support the bill, saying it deprives children the possibility of a home and family. Bloomberg pulled from Twitter responses:

“The response to the Magnitsky bill is a disgrace,” art gallery owner Marat Guelman wrote on Twitter. “The Americans have punished our officials; in retaliation, the parliament punishes orphans — also our own.”

Really, what Russians seem to be looking for, is a bill that corresponds to America’s new Magnitsky bill. Here’s The New York Times again:

Ilya V. Ponomarev, an opposition lawmaker who voted against the ban, said that statistically, Russian children living in Russia were at far greater risk of abuse or death than those in the United States, and that in most abuse cases in the United States, judges had issued stiff sentences.

Mr. Ponomarev also said the Magnitsky law was aimed at Russian citizens who violate the rights of other Russians, so to reciprocate, Russia would need a law aimed at Americans who violate other Americans’ rights.

“We want a symmetrical law,” he said. “This one doesn’t correspond.”

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About Rose Eveleth
Rose Eveleth

Rose Eveleth is a writer for Smart News and a producer/designer/ science writer/ animator based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Scientific American, Story Collider, TED-Ed and OnEarth.

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