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Adoptions stalled: reform or red tape?

(Page 2 of 2)

Russian nationalists have accused outside middlemen of manipulating the system and using their clients' wealth to jump waiting lists and secure the healthiest babies. By banning foreign agencies until registration takes place, the Putin government has triggered worries that it may be preparing to crack down on foreign adoptions.

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"Our children should stay in Russia," says Viktor Kozin, a parliamentary spokesman for the ultranationalist party of Vladimir Zhirinovsky, which wants to ban foreign adoptions altogether. "Rich Americans want to buy our babies and turn them against Russia. That can't be allowed."

At the Lubertsy Baby House, home to 105 infants in the village of Malakhovka, Ms. Struchkova shakes her head. "That's a very influential point of view in some circles, but it's a minority one," she says. "To me it's perfectly obvious that the most unpatriotic thing is to leave a Russian baby without parents."

According to Harris and others, the stronger regulations decreed by President Putin might have the effect of stealing the nationalists' thunder. One of the new rules will require adoptive parents to register their baby with the Russian consulate in their country, to keep open its right to Russian citizenship until the age of 18. Another orders parents to submit regular progress reports on the child for four years after the adoption.

"If they work properly, the new regulations will weaken political pressure by applying the kind of tough standards the critics have been calling for," Harris says. "In the long run, the environment can be improved."

Since adoption is supposed to be free of charge under Russian law, no one seems very willing to talk about the economic contribution being made by prospective foreign parents to keep the rickety, underfunded Russian orphanage system alive. But it may be considerable.

Struchkova complains the Russian government is far behind on the 32 rubles (about $1.15) that is supposed to be paid for each child's daily upkeep. "My staff and I routinely go for months without our salaries," she says. "The authorities are simply not living up to their responsibilities."

She turns cautious when asked about the expensive fax machine and computer sitting on her office desk, and the shipment of new children's furniture arriving at the back door of the orphanage for the young ones, all under 4.

"We get food, clothing, and other things from friends and sponsors," she says. "There's no law against humanitarian aid, you know."

Ms. Harris says the mystery is easily solved. "As an American adoption agency working in Russia ... we encourage parents to donate about $1,000 to the orphanage as a way of saying thanks and helping the children who remain behind," she says. "Our agency always makes sure it is given in the form of necessities. We never hand over cash."

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society