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Russia's proposed ban on US adoptions: What would it mean for orphans?

Children's rights advocates say there's nothing wrong with efforts to reduce international adoption – if those efforts are focused on strengthening families and encouraging domestic adoption. Russia, however, has a long way to go to find domestic families for its orphans.

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“There is terrible irony in the fact that America’s decision to speak out against human rights violations may cause the Russian government to deny many thousands of Russian orphans the possibility to grow up in loving, adoptive families,” says Chuck Johnson, president and CEO of National Council for Adoption in Alexandria, Va.

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The Russian bill came in response to a US law that stemmed from the case of Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer who died in jail in his country after being arrested by police officers whom he accused of involvement in a $230 million tax fraud. The law prohibits officials allegedly involved in his death from entering the US.

UNICEF, the UN agency focused on children, issued a statement Wednesday that, without mentioning the proposed ban, calls on Russia to put children's interests first.

“We encourage the government to establish a robust national social protection plan to help strengthen Russian families," UNICEF executive director Anthony Lake said. "Alternatives to the institutionalization of children are essential, including permanent foster care, domestic adoption, and inter-country adoption."

Many child-welfare advocates say the first resort for children up for adoption should be to place them with families in their country of origin.

The State Department has been working with other nations (including Russia) and with adoption agencies to ensure that protections are in place for children and parents alike – to guard, for instance, against children moving to an adoptive family overseas without their birth parents' approval.

The Russian news media, however, have focused attention on cases of US adoption that have apparently gone awry. The new legislation is named after Dima Yakovlev, a Russian toddler who died in 2008 after his adoptive father in the US left him in a hot car. The father was found not guilty of involuntary manslaughter.

Russia's children's rights ombudsman, Pavel Astakhov, said Wednesday that 46 children who were about to be adopted in the US would remain in Russia if the bill goes into effect. On Thursday, he urged Putin to extend the ban to other countries.

"There is huge money and questionable people involved in the semi-legal schemes of exporting children," he said in a post on Twitter.

"This is cynicism beyond limits," opposition leader Ilya Yashin responded via Twitter. "The children rights ombudsman is depriving children of a future."

The State Department says it has "expressed concern to the Russian government that, if signed into law, this legislation will needlessly remove the path to families for hundreds of Russian children each year."

Some of the 60,000 young people adopted from Russia by US families have also joined the fray. University student Sasha D'jamoos has written a letter to Putin urging him not to sign the ban.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this story.

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