Death of Russian-born boy in US reignites adoption debate
A 9-year-old Russian boy adopted by US parents died in a house fire last week, reminding Russians of several incidents of poor treatment of Russian orphans adopted by Americans.
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"Our system of adoption is still very ineffective, and it needs a lot of improvements," he says. "We still have over 100,000 children who need homes. That's why every time Astakhov calls for banning foreign adoptions he's threatening to punish thousands of Russian kids.Skip to next paragraph
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"These tragic cases shouldn't be made the subject of international diplomacy. All the rhetoric that springs up is a bit of a cold war throwback, and it's disproportional to the problem. If we want Russian children to stay home, we should focus on improving conditions and eliminating abuses in Russia itself," he adds.
The US and Russia negotiated a bilateral agreement on child adoptions last July, but it has yet to be ratified by the Russian State Duma due to ongoing disputes over safeguards.
The Russian media has lately begun to focus on domestic cases of child abuse and parental negligence – coverage that was taboo in the past – which leads to as many as 2,000 child deaths each year.
"There are a lot of people in Russia who are opposed to foreign adoptions on nationalistic principle, and that is why these cases that happen abroad attract such resonance," says German Pyatov, a Moscow doctor and founder of the Murziki charity group that provides assistance to struggling orphanages.
"But we need to acknowledge that cruelty to children is a universal evil, and we have more than our share of it in Russia," he adds.
A US track record
As many as 100,000 Russian children have been adopted by foreigners since the collapse of the USSR two decades ago, and fewer than 20 of them have died as a result of negligence or abuse. But there have been a few high profile American cases in recent years that have drawn huge attention in the Russian media and led Astakhov to demand such adoptions be cut off.
Two years ago a Tennessee mother, apparently unable to cope with her adopted Russian son Artyom Savelyev, put the boy on a one-way flight to Moscow with a "to whom it may concern" note of rejection. Last week a Tennessee judge ordered the adoptive mother, Torry Hansen, to pay $150,000 in damages and an additional $1,000 per month in child support for the boy, now 10 years old and living in Russia, until he reaches the age of 18.
Another example that drew a firestorm of outrage in Russia was the 2009 death by abuse and malnutrition of 7-year old Russian-born Nathaniel Craver, whose adoptive American parents were sentenced last November to 16 months in jail by a Pennsylvania court.
"Russian fascination with cases like this is an echo of the 1990s, when things were really bad," says Tatiana Gurko, a family expert with the official Institute of Sociology in Moscow. "In those days there were few controls on international adoptions, and Russian children were almost literally being sold abroad. Those days are long gone, but people are still thinking in those terms. It really shouldn't be politicized."