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Putin’s Ban on U.S. Adoption: A Poorly Designed Diversion

Russia passed a bill early this year banning all United States adoptions of Russian children in response to America’s Magnitsky Act, which imposed travel and financial restrictions on Russian officials suspected of human rights violations. To justify the bill, President Putin has cited the tragic deaths of a few Russian orphans adopted into the U.S. However, the bill and its justifications have received much criticism in both countries leaving open the question of whether Putin’s reasoning leads to a different purpose altogether.

Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, passed a bill early this year that banned all United States adoptions of Russian children. Putin justified the bill by pointing out cases of adopted Russian children suffering death and abuse in their new American homes.1 However, this reasoning is only a feeble attempt to rationalize the heartless bill and is secondary to a more retaliatory motivation against the U.S. and perhaps, a broader attempt to distract the world from Russia’s own human rights offenses.

In 2012, Russia had over 700,000 orphans waiting for adoption, nearly twice the number of U.S. children living without permanent families the previous year.
To prove its point, the Russian government highlighted cases such as three-year-old Max Shatto, whose death was attributed to an accident despite early suspicion surrounding his American adoptive parents and 21-month-old Dima Yakovlev, who died of heatstroke after being left in alone in a car on a hot day.2  However, in reality, more than 60,000 Russian children have been adopted by American families over the past 20 years with 19 deaths resulting from negligence or abuse by adoptive American parents.3  While each of those 19 deaths is nothing short of tragic, abuse instances are not unique to U.S. adoptions and the number of successful adoptions along with Russia’s immense need for them provides no justification in ending adoption practices between the countries. In 2012, Russia had over 700,000 orphans waiting for adoption, nearly twice the number of U.S. children living without permanent families the previous year. 4, 5  In 2007 alone, 27 children were killed or seriously injured in Russia by Russian adoptive parents.6  It is clear neither the U.S. nor Russia has a perfect track record when it comes to child abuse among adopted children, but certainly President Putin is in no place to be throwing stones.

The more obvious reasoning for the implementation of the bill is to punish the U.S. for the Magnitsky Act signed by President Obama in December 2012. The act imposes U.S. travel and financial constraints on Russian officials suspected of human rights abuse.7 This law was created in response to the killing of Russian lawyer Sergie Magnitsky, who revealed the involvement of a group of Russian officials in a scheme to steal $230 million from the Russian treasury.  Some of these Russian officials conspired for his arrest and a year later he died in a Moscow prison as a result of beatings.  All of his alleged tormentors remain free and nearly all maintain their government posts to this day.  The Act seeks to prevent suspected Russian officials from U.S. travel, U.S. property ownership, and from maintaining U.S. bank accounts.8 The Act cites “how deeply [Russia’s] protection of human rights is affected by corruption,” and the fact that Magnitsky’s treatment was “emblematic of a broader pattern of disregard for the numerous domestic and international human rights commitments of the Russian Federation,” as its reasoning.9  When questioned by Russian and foreign reporters about his signing of the U.S. adoption prevention bill, President Putin stated, “[This] country will not be humiliated,” citing the embarrassment Russia suffered as a result of the Magnitsky Act.10

While Russian society makes efforts to catch up in creating social services post-Soviet Union, its children continue to fall victim to an inadequate number of available resources.
However, Putin’s actions have been sharply criticized, not only by the U.S. but by Russian citizens and officials.  Education Minister Dmitri Livanov tweeted disapproval for the bill stating that, “[Putin’s] logic is wrong, because our own children may suffer, the ones who could not find foster parents in Russia.”11  Television celebrity Vladimir Solovyov also expressed outrage saying, “We should now ban giving birth in Russia, because children also get killed here.”12  The truth in Solovyov’s statement is chilling.  According to First Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs, Mikhail Sukhodolsky, “In 2008 over 126,000 minors suffered attempted violent crimes, of whom over 62,000 suffered actual crimes.”13  Alexei Golovan, Children’s Rights Commissioner for Moscow, explained an increase in family violence as a result of “society [becoming] more cruel and cynical[,]… national legislation [being] very lenient towards adults who treat children with cruelty… and compared with Soviet times, the institution of the family has become more closed.”14  Although Russia fought for the privacy of its citizens, the change to family life being segregated from government intrusion has left children’s suffering to go unnoticed. While Russian society makes efforts to catch up in creating social services post-Soviet Union, its children continue to fall victim to an inadequate number of available resources.

Perhaps it is these distressing facts, combined with the Magnitsky Act that has Putin concerned about Russia’s humiliation.  The need for improvement in children’s rights and protections is just one front the international community has chastised the country for, and now with the Magnitsky Act punishing officials for human rights violations, the Russian government has pushed back.  At first glance, the Russian bill seems unrelated and random, but perhaps it is intended to shine negative light on America and for once show Russia as the more humanistic nation, having to take care of its orphans who are neglected and abused in American adoption.  In reality, however, by preventing thousands of children’s adoption into loving homes, and creating a cause for comparing adopted children’s treatment in both countries, this act simply points out to the international community another measure where Russia again comes up short on human rights.

 


[1] Russia investigates ‘murder’ of Max Shatto, US adoptee, BBC News, (Feb. 19, 2013, 7:43 AM), http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-21503299.

[2] Id.

[3] Simon Shuster, Why Has Moscow Passed a Bill to Ban U.S. Adoption of Russian Orphans?, Time World, (Dec. 20, 2012), http://world.time.com/2012/12/20/why-has-moscow-passed-a-law-to-ban-u-s-adoption-of-russian-orphans/.

[4] Statistical Snapshots: Russia’s Children at Risk, Russian Children’s Welfare Society, (2012), http://www.rcws.org/aboutus_statistics.htm.

[5] Why We Do It: Facts and Statistics, Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, (2011), http://www.ccainstitute.org/why-we-do-it-/facts-and-statistics.html.

[6] Irina Lisichkina, Child Abuse in Russia, The CoMission for Children at Risk, (April 9, 2009), http://comission.org/resources/?id=1359.

[7] Russia’s Putin signs anti-U.S. adoption bill, CNN, (Dec. 28, 2012, 10:03 PM), http://www.cnn.com/2012/12/28/world/europe/russia-us-adoptions.

[8] Simon Shuster, Why Has Moscow Passed a Bill to Ban U.S. Adoption of Russian Orphans?, Time World, (Dec. 20, 2012), http://world.time.com/2012/12/20/why-has-moscow-passed-a-law-to-ban-u-s-adoption-of-russian-orphans/.

[9] Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act, S. 1039, 112th Cong. (2011).

[10] Simon Shuster, Why Has Moscow Passed a Bill to Ban U.S. Adoption of Russian Orphans?, Time World, (Dec. 20, 2012), http://world.time.com/2012/12/20/why-has-moscow-passed-a-law-to-ban-u-s-adoption-of-russian-orphans/.

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] Irina Lisichkina, Child Abuse in Russia, The CoMission for Children at Risk, (April 9, 2009), http://comission.org/resources/?id=1359.

[14] Id.