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Russia's adoption ban exposes political rift (+video)

Russian President Putin is expected to back the parliament's adoption ban. But the move has exposed a rare split in the government, with some top officials speaking out against the ban.

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"Learning about official correspondence from the media is not always pleasant," Mr. Peskov told the Kommersant FM radio station yesterday. But "it would be a mistake to think that there is staunch opposition to the bill within government. On the contrary, there are many arguments in favor of it," he said.

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Many Russians believe it is a national shame that thousands of children are adopted by foreigners each year. According to a public opinion survey published this week by the state-run Public Opinion Fund, 56 percent of Russians support the proposed adoption ban, while just 21 percent oppose it.

Pavel Astakhov, the Kremlin's children's rights ombudsman and a strong supporter of the ban, said in a letter to Putin published today that Russia could simply pull out of the bilateral agreement with the US and that the move would violate no Russian laws.

Meanwhile, about 130,000 Russians have signed a petition at the website of opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta asking the Kremlin to scrap the proposed ban.

In a sign that the ill will generated by the issue might snowball further, a petition posted at the White House's website, signed by over 54,000 Russians and Americans, urges Mr. Obama to expand the so-called Magnitsky List by adding the names of all the Russian lawmakers in the two chambers who voted for the adoption ban. About 7,000 signed a petition calling for Obama to add Putin's name to the list.

Over the past two decades, about 60,000 Russian children have been adopted by US families. Of those, at least 19 died due to parental abuse or neglect. Each one of those cases ignited a firestorm of public outrage in Russia and led to two suspensions of all foreign adoptions.

It also led to several efforts to tighten up Russia's once-lax foreign adoption process. Today, prospective parents are no longer able to arrange an adoption on their own, but must work through heavily regulated and fully accredited agencies, says Alyona Senkevich, a representative of Hand-in-Hand, one of fewer than 40 US-based adoption agencies still accredited to work in Russia.

"It's heartbreaking to think that we just signed the bilateral adoption agreement....  The main impact of this law (if Putin signs it) would be to strip Russian orphans of the right to be adopted abroad,” she says. “They will become the victims of political games."

Under Russian law, a child is not eligible for foreign adoption until the child has been rejected at least three times by prospective Russian adoptive parents, which usually happens for health reasons.

Albert Likhanov, president of the non-governmental Russian Children's Fund, says that the proposed ban would result in the approximately 1,000 orphans adopted each year by US families to be institutionalized instead of ending up in loving homes.

"I fully understand the wish of many Russians that our children would all be adequately cared for in Russia. But this is not the situation today, and a child cannot wait for everything to get stabilized," he says.

Mr. Likhanov said that Putin’s predecessor, Dmitry Medvedev, once pointed out that in 2008 alone there were 130,000 cases in Russia of violence against children and over 2,000 deaths.

"There is a crisis in our system, and this debate shows that there are people who are willing to use our orphans as political footballs ... this conflict makes clear that all is not well in own kingdom,” he says.

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