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Sunday, 23 December 2012

Russian ban against US adoption has terrible blowback for Russian orphans and children-in-need

As you might know, Russia and America are currently contesting in – what the Dutch call –‘a match of long-peeing’. The cause for this contest has been the so-called Magnitsky bill.

According to Wikipedia:  

The main intention of the law was to punish Russian officials that were thought to be responsible for the death of Russian attorney Sergei Magnitsky by prohibiting their entrance to the United States and use of their banking system.

Russia responded by prohibiting Americans their entrance to Russia, when they had presumably been involved in human rights’ violations. So far, this has been a bread-and-butter conflict between the former archenemies. The United States and Russia are officially no enemies anymore, but still have a lot of hostile reflexes originating from the Cold War. “An eye for an eye” is one of those hard-to-abolish reflexes.   

The latest anti-American bill that has been passed by the Duma, the Russian parliament, is aimed at punishing the American people for the Magnitsky bill. This Duma-bill puts a ban on American adoption of Russian orphans and children-in-need.  Here are the pertinent snips from an article by the BBC:

Russian President Vladimir Putin has defended a ban on Americans adopting Russian children, which has been proposed by the Russian parliament.

He said the bill, a response to the US Magnitsky Act which bars entry to Russian alleged human rights violators, was "appropriate".

Russian officials, he said, were not allowed to sit in on US cases involving the mistreatment of Russian children.

A number of cases where Russian children have died or been mistreated at the hands of US adoptive parents have made headlines in Russia.

Mr Putin said he still needed to read the Russian bill in detail, though he backed it in principle.

The rate of adoption in Russia is low. Some 3,400 Russian children were adopted by foreign families in 2011, nearly a third of them by Americans. The number of children adopted by Russian citizens was 7,416.

Americans have adopted around 60,000 Russian children over the past 20 years, with 19 recorded deaths among them. Over the same period, 1,500 orphans died in Russian adoptive families, according to the Russian prosecutor-general's office.

"The State Duma's response may be emotional, but I consider it to be appropriate," Mr Putin said, referring to Russia's lower house.

He called the US Magnitsky Act "unfriendly". The act replaced the US Jackson-Vanik amendment, which dated back to the Cold War.

"They have replaced one anti-Soviet, anti-Russian law with another... That is very bad. This, of course, in itself poisons our relations," Mr Putin said.

In this argument, I won’t judge Russia and the United States on their past behavior towards human rights. I conclude with the remark that both countries have a worrisome track record on this topic, during the Cold War AND during the War on Terrorism. In both cases it is a question of the pot calling the kettle black.

The only problem of this latest Duma-bill is that it has a terrible blowback for one of the most poor and pitiful groups in Russia: the orphans and children-in-need.

Many orphans and children-in-need  – physically and mentally challenged children or children with parents that are not able to take care of them anymore – spend their lives in terrible and tragic poverty in the Russian orphanages.

These children are neglected and abused, dirty and underfed and suffer often from dangerous and sometimes lifethreatening diseases, like psychic conditions, influenza, pneumonia, aids and tuberculosis.

Although in general their situation can not yet be compared to the situation in European and US orphanages, there is unfortunately still a big difference between the children in the two large Russian cities and those in the rest of the country.

Children in orphanages in the large cities Moscow and St-Petersburg generally live in beter circumstances than the children in rural areas. Besides that, they have at least a slight chance for a happy adoption, due to the much higher wealth ratio of the people there. These orphanages in Moscow and St-Petersburg might also attract more attention from wealthier Russians, as they have a better chance for media coverage from one of the Russian TV channels and newspaper.

The real problem lies with the orphanages in the vast rural areas of Russia, where lack of jobs and good housing, poverty, despair and alcoholism have taken their toll from the people. Especially these areas have a tradition of ‘everybody for themselves and God for us all’, as many of the people living there are just busy with surviving every day. They neither have the energy nor the money to help children-in-need.

People should remember that Russia, although it is an extremely wealthy country, is also a country where the wealth is divided very unevenly: Moscow and St-Petersburg bath in luxury, while the rest of the country hardly has a ruble to spend.

The most remarkable thing is perhaps, that 80% of the children in the rural orphanages still has parents. However, these parents are not able to take care of these children for various reasons, like poverty, a young age, a troubled family situation or alcoholism, which is still a giant killer among middle-aged men and women in Russia.

For many of these children, being adopted by United States’ citizens meant having the chance for a better life in the families of loving and caring American parents.

Some American parents have paid a fortune: not only to adopt their Russian child, but also to cure it from various diseases and affections, giving it a very good chance for a healthy and happy life. One of the most remarkable examples among these adopted Russian children is Jessica Long: a disabled girl from Siberia who won five golden medals (out of seven) on the London Paralympics 2012.

This chance is now taken away from these children by the Russian Duma.

The Russian newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda shows in an article on this topic, how much many Russians are offended by this law, which is called Dima Yakovlev in Russia:

On its last assembling day of 2012, the State Duma adopted the scandalous "anti-Magnitsky law", in which foreigners that violated against the (human) rights of Russian citizens, will be denied entry to our country. The law also prohibits Americans to adopt Russian children. This law in fact makes an end to the existence of the many Russian agencies that specialize in mediation in cases  where foreign people want to adopt a Russian orphan; often U.S citizens.

It would be reasonable to assume that, along with the ban on adoptions of Russian children by Americans, members of the Duma should help orphans, for instance by adopting a resolution that specifically asks the government to develop and adopt a program of "Russia without orphans". A program that provides financial assistance  to poor parents, to make sure that they don’t not give up their children for adoption. Besides that, we should encourage those who are going to become foster parents with tax incentives and better housing.

December 21 can be considered as a starting point, according to the Commission for Children's Rights, under the presidency of Pavel Astakhov :

“Today should be a serious turn in the social policy of the state: we should stop with waiting for help coming from foreigners, who come and "bring happiness" to our orphans. Instead we should learn how to reform our existing system of child homes and residential care facilities.

We must also reduce the number of social orphans: children that do have parents, but yet live in an orphanage. These are 80% of the children in children's homes. Families should get decent social financial assistance from the state in order to find a job, to build up their economy and to make their families feel safe and protected.”

However, human rights activist Valery Borshchev calls adoption of this law madness and is certain that this bill has already split society:

Apart from the tense political situation, related to the "Magnitsky Act", it is disgusting to fight political battles over the head of children-in-need. You really should not do that. The Duma has demonstrated that it is not concerned about the mood of society. Hundreds of thousands of signatures have passed, but no-one in the Duma moved. This law divides the country.” The Russian Duma is still willing to consider the appeal of citizens against the " Dima Yakovlev law". This was announced by the Vice-Speaker of the lower house of parliament, Sergei Neverov. Earlier, representatives of "Novaya Gazeta" (NG) handed 100,000 signatures over to members of the Duma. These signatures were collected in electronic form on the NG website of edition. However MP Ilya Ponomarev - one of the few who voted against the law, "Dima Yakovlev" - has doubts whether these signatures will have much impact on the situation.

It could be that president Vladimir Putin can still send this bill back to the Duma for revision, according political scientist Stanislav Belkovsky :
“In fact, the Duma punishes its own citizens - Russian children. Americans suffer very little damage from this law. They can adopt children from all around the world. Most orphans probably want to be in the most developed country in the world. Therefore, the meaning of the Act, as a response to the "Magnitsky Act", it very doubtful:

This article is translated by Google Translate and edited by me. There might be some translation errors, due to the poor quality of the Google translations. On top of that, I would advise people who speak Russian or have access to a better translation service to read the whole article on this topic.

In my opinion, this law and the preceding Magnitsky law is a contest in intercontinental long-peeing between the US and Russia.

Although the tensions between these countries are a logical result of the current crisis and the generally poor trust and confidence between Russia and the US, the consequences of these laws are grave: especially for people that have nothing to do with the problems.

I hope and expect that politicians in Russia (and the US) soon end this madness and stick to the original, bilateral agreements on adoption between these countries, as this Dima Yakovlev law is counterproductive and unfair.

On top of that, I hope that Russian orphans and children-in-need can look forward to a better life in their own country. However, as long as the egoism and ignorance rules among the powers that be in Moscow, I am not optimistic about it.

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