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Questions, mistrust surround Russia’s US adoption ban

Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a measure into law that states as of Jan. 1, no American can adopt a Russian child. It is unclear whether adoptions already in the pipeline will be terminated or if an involved child will get a new U.S. family as planned. Russia has yet to issue any guidelines as to how the law will be put into practice, and in an advisory notice emailed to adoption agencies Monday, the Department of State said it has no information on whether the Russian government intends to permit the completion of pending adoptions. It is also unclear if adopted children who are yet to immigrate to the U.S. will be allowed to leave Russia. The Russian government is taking a national holiday and will not be back in action until Tuesday, the email states.

Meanwhile, those in the adoption field are watching the developments closely.

“It would be wonderful if Russia could marshal the resources to take care of their many children who need homes, but until that’s in place it seems that it would be great for these children to have loving homes in America or other countries,” said Marla Allisan, founder and director of A Full Circle Adoptions in Northampton. “This law is not in the best interest of the children.”

The law signed by Putin is seen largely as retaliation against President Barack Obama signing the Magnitsky Act, which imposes U.S. travel and financial restrictions on suspected human rights abusers in Russia. Backers of the Russian bill say Americans have a record of abusing Russian children, citing 19 deaths in the past decade, Reuters reports.

Paul Hollander, a retired University of Massachusetts Amherst sociology professor specializing in Eastern Europe and Russian culture, said the new law is a “tit for tat” response to the Magnitsky Act.

“It’s a symbolic way to get back at the United States,” he said. “It’s totally stupid and only hurts the Russian children involved.”

International adoptions

When it comes to international U.S. adoptions, the greatest number of children are adopted from China, followed by Ethiopia, then Russia, according to Legal Language Services, a New York City firm that offers litigation support services in more than 150 languages. In 2010, 1,082 Russian children were adopted by Americans, making up a little less than 10 percent of all international adoptions that year.

The Russian law, which also includes restrictions on U.S. officials and NGOs that receive money from the U.S., comes at a time when international adoptions are down nationwide. From 2009 to 2010, international adoptions fell by 13 percent — a 15-year low, according to Legal Language Services.

And although the new law is being criticized in the United States, in Russia it has widespread support. According to a recent public opinion poll published by the state-run Public Opinion Fund, 56 percent of Russians support the proposed adoption ban, while just 21 percent oppose it.

Hollander said this support from the citizenry may be due to nationalism and a long-standing love-hate relationship with America.

“A lot of it is a nationalistic sentiment: ‘We don’t want them to do us favors or adopt our children — we can take good care of our children. We are not supplicants for their help,’” Hollander said.

Allisan, meanwhile, who has been working in adoption services for 23 years, said there are ups and downs when it comes to international adoptions, depending on the geopolitical climate. International adoptions by U.S. families took a big hit when Guatemala clamped down on adoptions in 2007, for example, when it was discovered that some Guatemalan parents had been coerced into giving their children up for adoption and others had been kidnapped. Transgressions were also found on the administrative side of the adoption process. Prior to that, Guatemala had been one of the most popular countries for international adoptions. In 2008, more than 4,000 Guatemalan children were adopted by Americans, according to Legal Language Services.

In terms of the current situation with Russia, Allisan said, she knows of a family in the middle of the process, but they are staying quiet. She said the family does not live in western Massachusetts.

Lisa Funaro, executive director of the Massachusetts Adoption Resource Exchange, said that although the Russian law is heart-breaking, she hopes it encourages people to pursue domestic adoption.

“I really grieve for the families not able to complete their adoption,” Funaro said. “I hope, at some point, they may consider adopting locally.” Funaro added that there are 600 children in Massachusetts who need a permanent home.

Kristin Palpini can be reached at kpalpini@gazettenet.com.

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