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US court starts hearing case of Craver couple suspected of abusing Russian boy

September 06, 2011, 20:41 UTC+3
The Cravers adopted Vanya and his twin sister Dasha from a Chelyabinsk orphanage in 2003
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NEW YORK, September 6 (Itar-Tass) —— The York City Court in U.S. Pennsylvania has started the trial of the presumed murder of a Russian boy by U.S. adoptive parents.

Michael Craver, 46 and his wife Nanette, 54, were put to a Pennsylvania prison on the charges of first degree murder and child abuse. The defense claimed that Vanya Skorobogatov was suffering from a mental disorder, which caused frequent outbreaks of destructiveness and self-mutilation. The defense said that the disease was diagnosed and Vanya was receiving therapy. They explained numerous bruises on Vanya's body with the ailment.

The Cravers adopted Vanya and his twin sister Dasha from a Chelyabinsk orphanage in 2003. The seven-year-old boy called Nathaniel by the adoptive parents died at a Pennsylvania hospital in August 2009. He had nearly 80 external injuries, including 20 to his head. Detectives said that the death resulted from beating and hunger. Dasha is staying with relatives of the adoptive parents. The authorities permitted correspondence between the Cravers and Dasha but all the letters had to be checked by social workers.

The presiding judge said that the jury was selected from 59 candidates. The local media said that the prosecution had abandoned the initial intention to demand a death sentence.

Back on August 30 U.S. citizen Jessica Bigley found guilty of cruel treatment of her adopted son Daniil Bukharov, 7, from Russia.

Russian Children’s Rights Ombudsman Pavel Astakhov said then that the sentence would have been more severe.

“Although the prosecution is satisfied and will not appeal the sentence, I cannot say we are absolutely happy with this ruling but we have to accept it,” Astakhov told Itar-Tass on August 30. He also said he would insist on “strict control over the life of adopted children in the Bigley family not only in the period of the suspended sentence [six months] but also in the longer period of two years for preventing any violations of children’s rights.”

Astakhov once again stressed the need for the soonest ratification of the Russia-U.S. adoptions treaty at the State Duma.

The Bigley ruling sets a serious precedent for criminal prosecution of mothers suspected of mistreatment of children, he said. “The fact that Bigley was found guilty and a sentence, although suspended, was passed on her showed that U.S. courts were prepared to punish parents for humiliating their children and the American society would not close the eyes to such facts,” he said.

The Alaska District Court in Anchorage passed a 180-day suspended sentence on Jessica Bigley on Tuesday. She will pay a fine of $2,500 and will stay under surveillance for three years. In that period she must either meet a psychotherapist or a child rearing specialist. She will go to prison if she breaches the court order or mistreats Daniil, his twin brother and the other four children. The jury said Bigley had a malicious intent.

The first pretrial hearing of the Bigley case was held on January 28, 2011, and lasted for three minutes. The lawyer said Bigley she did nothing punishable under the child abuse law.

Bigley said in a TV show in late December 2010 that she was straightening her disobedient child with pouring cold water over him and mouth washing with hot pepper sauce. The boy was eventually identified as Daniil Bukharov adopted by a U.S. couple in Magadan. Apart from Daniil and his twin brother Oleg, the Mormon family has another four children.

The lawyer said no one would have uttered a word if not for the Dr. Phil Show. Some think it is bad to spank a child, but she did not do even that, he remarked. The adoptive mother did not attend the hearing, and the lawyer was her representative. He stressed that the 'straightening methods' did not hurt Daniil.

The Anchorage police were informed about the situation on November 17, 2010. An investigation was held, and detectives saw the video-clip in which Jessica was shouting at the boy and he was crying of pain. The detectives also questioned Jessica, her husband and the six children. Prosecutors had no doubt that the cruel treatment charge was founded.

By Anchorage laws, this is an administrative offense punished with up to one year in custody or a fine of $10,000.

The Russian consulate general in Seattle, Washington, controlled the investigation of a new case of violence upon a Russian child in the United States.

The new case of U.S. adoptive parents' violence upon a Russian child accentuates the need for the immediate signing of an adoptions treaty with the United States, Ombudsman Astakhov said in the beginning of the year in comment on the Daniil Bukharov situation.

"This is a case of harsh treatment of a child, not a way of strict upbringing the adoptive mother claims," Astakhov said on the Vesti FM radio in late January. "Urgent measures must be taken to protect the small Russian citizen who has found himself in a difficult situation. He must be protected from harsh treatment," the ombudsman said. "Such treatment of a child must be described as torture and punished by U.S., Russian and international laws," he noted.

Astakhov said that his office and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov were coordinating efforts in the assistance to Daniil Bukharov. "The Russian consul general in the United States visited the hometown of the adoptive family by the minister's instruction to provide legal and other assistance to the boy," he said.

The Russian Children's Rights Ombudsman Office applied to the U.S. authorities for the immediate protection of the boy and the prevention of further risks to his health and life, Astakhov said.

Astakhnov ordered Magadan Regional Children's Rights Ombudsman Nikolai Zhukov to verify the lawfulness of the adoption of Daniil.

"Seventy-five percent of children adopted in the Magadan region go to foreign families, while Russia's average rate is around 30%," he said. "Seventeen children adopted by U.S. families have died," he added.

"Some 80,000 Russian children have been adopted by foreign families in recent years. The United States leads by the number of children adopted from Russia," State Secretary - Deputy Education and Science Minister Yuri Sentyurin said earlier. "However, adopted children encounter a number of problems. Some of the foreign parents are simply not ready for the enlargement of their families."

Thus, the inter-country adoption agreement will add an element of stability, he said. "For instance, the agreement will help regulate and control the activity of adoption intermediaries," he noted.

Back then U.S. Consul General in Moscow Richard Beer called for stricter control over families that adopt children. He also said that the agreement must correspond to the laws of the United States and Russia. The U.S. is very much interested in signing this agreement, but it will take some time to elaborate it, he said.

Meanwhile, the number of foreigners wishing to adopt children from Russia dropped by 60% in the past six years, and the number of Russian families wishing to adopt a child grew by 27%.

The Family Code defines an inter-country adoption as a temporary measure for children who cannot be adopted in Russia. Inter-country adoption is possible exclusively on the basis of bilateral treaties.

According to Education and Science Ministry department director Alina Levitskaya, U.S. citizens have adopted about 50,000 Russian children in the past 20 years.

The problem came to the forefront after a U.S. foster mother returned a seven-year-old boy to Russia. The President Barack Obama administration said they shared the indignation of Russians over several deaths of Russian children adopted by U.S. adoptive and the latest refusal of adoptive mother Torry Hansen from seven-year-old Artyom Savelyev. The woman put the unaccompanied boy on the plane to Russia.

The Department of State said though that it did not want a moratorium on the adoption of Russian children by U.S. citizens because it could have a negative effect on parentless children.

Opinion polls show that Russians are not willing to adopt children.

Only 9% are considering that possibility, 1% has adopted a child, and 3% are arguing a possible adoption with the family, according to an earlier poll done by the Russian Public Opinion Study Center (VTsIOM).

Eighty-nine percent of Russians know about the cruel treatment of Russian children in foreign foster families, and 8% know nothing about that.

Forty-eight percent oppose a ban on inter-country adoptions. Forty-two percent say that the nationality of foster parents is immaterial, and forty-one percent believe that adopted children will have a better material status in foreign foster families. Thirty-eight percent say that foreigners adopt sick children, which have no chance for adoption in the home country.

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