Adoptions from Russia face a chill
Approvals for American parents have slowed by a third so far this year.
Kerrie and Scott Farkas are looking forward to spending their lives with Dmitri, a blond, brown-eyed 2-year-old they've just spent two days with at an orphanage in Tambov, in central Russia.Skip to next paragraph
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They're optimistic despite a significant slowdown in international adoptions from Russia this year, due to an ugly and very public bureaucratic war that pits government liberals and child-care agencies against nationalist politicians who allege that children are being "trafficked" abroad. If the politicians' demands for change are met, they could severely curtail the ability of prospective foreign parents to adopt here.
Mr. Farkas says that for him and his wife, things are going well so far. "We have a good agency, and they have brought us through any potential problems," he says.
Foreign adoption has long been a sensitive issue in Russia, where the population has been shrinking for decades while the number of children without families has ballooned to an estimated 700,000. Last spring, the Russian media heavily covered the case of Irma Pavlis, a Chicago woman sentenced to 12 years in the abuse-related death of her adopted Russian son, Alex, in 2003. The daily Komsomolskaya Pravda reported that at least 13 Russian children have been "murdered" by US parents since foreign adoptions became possible in 1990.
In separate incidents this month, Moscow police seized adoptive children from two couples, one Italian and one American, after accusations of child abuse were phoned in. Both the US and Italian embassies issued strong statements casting doubt on the charges and warning of political manipulation.
"We heard about these incidents, and we find it inexplicable," says Scott Farkas, who will return to Lancaster, Pa., for a six- to eight-week wait to finalize his own adoption of Dmitri. "We can't understand how someone would go through this process and have that as the result."
Some 60,000 Russian children have been adopted by foreigners over the past decade. Well over half of them have found homes with Americans, who adopted about 23,000 children around the world last year. The Russian figures have spiked in recent years, with nearly 10,000 international adoptions last year, 5,865 of them to the US. The number adopted so far this year has dropped by a third.
Experts say the kind of problems cropping up for prospective parents in Russia have been encountered elsewhere. Adoptions from Vietnam (about 700 annually) halted in 2002 amid charges of corruption and "infant trafficking." A bilateral agreement on adoption concluded between the US and visiting Vietnamese Prime Minister Phan Van Khal on Tuesday may put the process back on track.
A child-protection law enacted by Romania in 2002 imposed such onerous restrictions that the practice stopped, leaving thousands of eligible children trapped in institutions. Last week, Ukraine placed a temporary freeze on all international adoptions, pending a government restructuring.
"It's very common in international adoptions that there are starts and stops," says Stephanie Mitchell, executive director of MAPS, an international adoption agency based in Maine. "There's a lot of curiosity in some cultures about why foreigners want to adopt their children, and this can lead to rumors and misconceptions taking hold."
To some Russians, the spate of child-abuse allegations against foreigners appears a timely validation of claims by a group of State Duma deputies that Russia's adoption process, overseen by the Ministry of Education, is riddled with corruption and incompetence, leading to the virtual sale of Russian children.
Yekaterina Lakhova, chair of the Duma's powerful commission on women, family, and youth, told a radio program this week that Russia's adoption system was geared to "selling" children to foreigners rather than finding suitable parents at home for them. Without citing examples, Communist lawmaker Svetlana Goryachova told parliament last week that Russian children were being "trafficked" to Western pornographers and prostitution rings.
A tough review initiated by Russia's top prosecutor has led to denial of accreditation to at least a dozen of the approximately 80 international adoption agencies working in Russia, and more could face the ax.
"We see many cases of cruel treatment of children by foreign adopters," says Nina Ostanina, deputy chairwoman of Ms. Lakhova's commission. "The Ministry of Education is a corrupted structure. We need them to stop the practice of demanding and receiving money for selling our children abroad. We want to tighten up procedures and conclude bilateral agreements to enable the state to take under control [Russian] adopted children living abroad."