By Nora Sullivan/CLI Research Assistant
Just before the New Year, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed into law a bill that bans the adoption of Russian children by U.S. citizens. The bill was sent to President Putin’s desk following quick and almost unanimous passage in both houses of the Russian Parliament.
The Russian government’s decision was in retribution for the recent U.S. Congressional approval of the Magnitsky Act, legislation that will impose sanctions on Russian bureaucrats entangled in human rights violations and prohibit them from owning assets in and traveling to the United States.
Responding to the ban, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) issued a statement saying:
The idea that this legislation is any way comparable to the U.S. Congress’s passage of the Magnitsky Act is utterly baseless. Our law singles out and punishes individual Russian officials who are corrupt and complicit in gross human rights abuses; Russia’s barring of adoptions broadly punishes the neediest, most defenseless, and most innocent members of its own society.
The banning of American adoptions seems to be a cruel and petty political power play. Unfortunately, the loser in this play is not the precious and fragile diplomatic relationship between two major international powers but the Russian children and American parents who were hoping to welcome them into their homes. If there are any positives to come out of this event, it is hoped that they will be increased public attention and discussion of the plight facing many Russian children.
UNICEF, the branch of the United Nations that deals with the rights of children, estimates that there are currently about 740,000 orphaned children in Russia. The U.S. State Department notes that over the past 20 years 60,000 Russian children have been adopted by American families. At least one third of Russian orphans currently reside in domestic institutions and the number continues to rise. Many children with special needs are placed in orphanages because of the social stigma attached to disability or because of their parents’ inability to care for them. A child with physical or developmental disabilities is often deemed ineducable and sent to a state institution where he or she receives no education, minimal therapy, and where the quality of care is often sickeningly substandard. Many of the severely disabled children are confined to unsanitary warehouse-style rooms, denied appropriate medical care, and, in certain cases, physically abused.
The tragedy of this situation is magnified by the fact that many foreign families have expressed an eagerness to adopt children with special needs.
Russia has the highest abortion rate in the world (according to United Nations estimates for 2004, there were nearly 54 abortions in Russia for every 1,000 women). When a culture develops such a blatant disregard for life in utero, it often follows that the lives of the weakest ex utero become similarly disvalued.
The high abortion rate has so adversely affected the population in Russia, where abortion restrictions were completely lifted at the beginning of the Soviet era, that the government recently enacted tighter abortion laws and required that the health risks of abortion be included in abortion advertisements in order to boost the birthrate.
If Russia would like to be taken seriously on the international scene as a nation with a vested interest in protecting the human rights of its own citizens and, indeed, of others across the globe, a clear way to convey that message is to stop holding hostage the most vulnerable members of its population and begin to contribute to their growth and well being. Allowing international adoptions to the United States to resume would be a step in that direction.