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Orphanages brim, but Russia thwarts foreign adoption

This week, the last of 89 foreign-based adoption agencies failed to get reaccreditation.

By Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / April 19, 2007



MOSCOW

Two years. That's how long Sandy Deede and her family have been struggling with the red tape of the Russian adoption system, ever since they fell in love with Vova, a 12-year-old Russian orphan who visited them at their upstate New York home.

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All foreign adoptions are now on hold in Russia. And due to Moscow's sweeping "reorganization" of the rules – fueled by a nationalist political drive to halt the practice altogether, say critics – it looks as if the Deede family's wait will continue.

"It's frustration with a capital F," says Ms. Deede. "Vova is just over there in Russia waiting and wondering why we're not coming to get him. How do you explain bureaucracy to a child?"

For US adoptive parents, Russia ranks third (after China and Guatemala) as the country of origin for the most orphans adopted. American families adopted 3,706 Russian children in 2006, down from 4,594 and 5,865 in the past two years. This year, those numbers could drop even more dramatically.

A year ago, there were 89 accredited foreign-based adoption agencies; this week, the last of them saw their accreditation expire. Officials say that 76 agencies have filed documents for reaccreditation, and are at varying stages on a treadmill that now requires them first to register as nongovernmental organizations under a new law. Adoption agencies were previously licensed by the Ministry of Education, but now their applications must also be vetted by the ministries of interior, justice, foreign affairs, and health.

"It's a whole new process, based on a government decree passed last November," says Sergei Vitelis, an official with the Ministry of Education and Science. "We do not yet have a single case where all the ministries have given their approval; as soon as we have, we'll start issuing licenses."

Russia has some 700,000 institutionalized children, about 260,000 of whom are officially listed as orphans available for adoption. Last year alone 140,052 children were placed in orphanages, according Russia's official Statistics Service, while 7,742 were adopted by Russian families and 6,689 by foreigners.

Some Russian adoptees abused

Defenders of the government crackdown say it's about improving accountability and providing safeguards for Russian children who are adopted abroad. They cite claims that at least 14 Russian kids adopted in the US and Canada have died over the past decade, victims of parental abuse. Earlier this year a group of nationalist and Communist deputies attempted to pass a bill in the Duma – the lower house of parliament – to halt foreign adoptions, but failed to gain support from the pro-Kremlin majority.

"We wanted to pass a moratorium on international adoptions, but our colleagues at the foreign ministry told us it violated international practice," says Nina Ostanina, deputy head of the Duma's commission on family affairs. "What we want now is to obtain bilateral agreements with countries that will enable us to be able to follow the adopted child's life abroad. As of now, Russian embassy workers are denied such access."

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