guest post – missohkay on russia banning international adoptions

Last Friday afternoon I was playing with Ky on the floor in the kitchen with the TV on in the background in the other room when I started hearing words like “adoption, ban, international, & Russia.” As an adoptive mom, I find myself always wanting to stay in the loop of what’s going on in the world when it comes to adoption, even if it’s a type of adoption situation that is different than the one we are in.  I just feel like I need to know what’s going on in the world when it comes to adoption.  I was immediately drawn to the TV and watched as the world found out that Russia would be banning international adoptions (even ones already in progress) to US residents.  My heart dropped.  Every adoptive parent’s nightmare is having a match disrupted.  I can not even imagine how heartbroken so many waiting parents are right now.  I’m just incredibly sad for them.  In saying that though, I knew there was much more to the decision than the adoption ethics explanation President Vladimir Putin was using as his reasoning.

Our guest poster this week is missohkay, who brought her beautiful baby girl E home last February from The Deomocratic Republic of the Congo.  She was matched many many months before and was legally little E’s mom long before they finished the last of her paperwork that allowed her into the United States.  I knew she would be on top of what was going on in Russia and would have a great perspective on the situation – as a mom of a child adopted internationally.

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I heard the news today, oh boy…” My heart sank this week when I saw the headlines that Russia was considering – and then passed into law – a ban on Americans adopting children from Russia. In the last ten years, Americans have adopted more than 32,000 children from Russian orphanages.

So what happened? Backing up – in 2009, a Russian man worked for an American law firm with an office in Russia, and he uncovered a massive tax fraud being carried out by Russian police. After making public accusations, he was arrested, tortured, and died in police custody. A few weeks ago, the U.S. passed a law that, among other things, blacklisted Russians who were connected to that death (and other human rights violators) to prevent them from entering the U.S. or using the U.S. banking system.

News accounts report that the Russian adoption ban was passed in retaliation for this U.S. law. But of course, there’s more to it than that. Russia has been souring on American adoptions for several years. The Russian bill was named after a Russian boy who died last year when his American father inadvertently left him in a hot car all day. And, most notably, when an American woman penned a note to her son’s coat and sent him on a plane back to Russia in 2007. (It’s obvious but must be said – there’s no excuse for that. There are services that help families and children with difficult placements, and, worst-case-scenario, an adoption can be legally “disrupted,” which doesn’t involve an airplane or handwritten note.)

International adoption can feel so tenuous – a race against a deadline that may or may not exist. You fill out papers as fast as you can, and then you wait. You run around getting photographed, having your fingerprints taken, and having doctors’ appointments, and then you wait. You are matched with a child and then you wait. You legally become that child’s parents, and then you wait. You worry that during this wait, your child won’t have enough to eat, or will get sick, or the laws will change. In addition to the emotional pressures, there is the financial pressure as you continue to spend money on things like translators, attorneys, required country visits, etc. which (usually) can’t be recovered if something goes awry. (And Russian adoptions are usually the most expensive international adoptions.)

A country changing its laws or closing down entirely while your adoption is pending is one of the biggest fears for a parent in the process of adopting internationally. And it hasn’t been uncommon in the recent past – Guatemala, Nepal, Vietnam, Haiti, and Cambodia, to name a few. Often the reason for the halt is to implement better laws in the country to protect children from exploitation – definitely not a bad thing – but it can interrupt legitimate adoptions and can delay children from finding families for years (and realistically, children are less likely to be adopted once they pass a certain age).

Late last year, when our adoption from Democratic Republic of the Congo was nearly complete, the country had its second democratic presidential election in recent years. Even though we had no reason to expect that Congo’s adoption program would shut down or drastically change, it was one of the most stressful times in our life. Our daughter was legally ours (meaning that we had completed the court process and we were her legal parents) for five months before each of the final painstaking steps was completed that would allow her to exit her country and come to ours.

I am so sad for the families who were in the process of adopting from Russia and for the children whose futures are uncertain now. I know from past country closures that there are dozens of U.S. families who were far enough along with their adoptions at the time the country closed its adoption program that they are still trying to get children that were legally theirs out of Guatemala and Vietnam and other countries. Sometimes the U.S. and the other country work together to help these children unite with their parents; it appears that Russia will not be taking those steps, as President Vladimir Putin stated he would find these children other homes in Russia. A noble goal, but not a realistic one – Russia is said to have more than 700,000 orphans and domestic adoption there is uncommon. The future for an institutionalized child there is grim.

Situations like these also make me sad for the future of international adoption, which is at an all-time low in the U.S. – just over 9,000 in 2011 versus almost 23,000 in 2004. There are an estimated 147 million orphans worldwide (though not all are legally adoptable), and news stories like this one scare away potential adoptive parents. A country is certainly entitled to pass laws to protect its children, but they shouldn’t be used as pawns in a political tit-for-tat.

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