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Duma bans Russian child adoptions in US in response to Magnitsky Act

December 19, 2012, 17:48 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila

Despite public protests and objections from some government members Russia’s State Duma on Wednesday voted for a ban on the adoption of orphaned Russian children by US citizens. In the course of the second reading the lower house of parliament approved amendments to a bill conceived as a response to the Magnitsky Act the US Congress adopted earlier.

The Duma also supported the idea of terminating the activity of organizations that select children and propose them for adoption by US citizens. Simultaneously it was decided to end the operation of the agreement between Russia and the United States on cooperation in the sphere of child adoption, signed in Washington on July 13, 2011.

The Russian legislators also passed an amendment suspending the “political” NGOs and established a rule banning Russian citizens who also have US citizenship from being members of or taking senior positions in the NGOs involved in politics.

So far there have been no cases of an initiative coming from the ruling United Russia party drawing such strong objections from members of the government. In the eyes of many people this senseless blackmail of the Americans with the future of Russian orphans looks inhuman.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Deputy Prime Minister for Social Affairs Olga Golodets, Education Minister Dmitry Livanov and Open Government Affairs Minister Mikhail Abyzov all harshly criticized the legislators’ idea of a ban on child adoptions in the US.

The bill entitled On Measures of Influencing Persons Involved in the Violation of Rights of Russian Citizens is in fact Moscow’s response to the Magnitsky Act, imposing sanctions against Russian law enforcement agencies and judges, who were somehow involved in the death of a lawyer of the Hermitage Capital foundation in a Moscow detention prison in November 2009. The bill was proposed by State Duma Speaker Sergei Naryshkin and the leaders of all Duma factions. They suggested banning entry into Russia for and freezing the assets of all Americans who have violated the rights of Russians.

The State Duma approved of the bill in the first reading on December 14. Later, the constitutional legislation committee complemented it with amendments – the Justice Ministry would be empowered with the right to suspend the operation of non-governmental organizations if they receive funding from US citizens and participate in political activity, while Russians having US citizenship would be prohibited from being members or heads of non-governmental organizations.

Also, Duma member Yekaterina Lakhova, of the United Russia party, proposed an amendment establishing a ban on the adoption of Russian children in the United States and closing down the offices of organizations selecting children for adoption. After that the document received the unofficial title Dima Yakovlev Bill – in memory of a two-year-old Russian boy, who died in Virginia after his American step-father left him locked in a car on a hot summer day.

The amendment caused controversial response from various commentators, including members of the Cabinet. It sparked a lively debate and even government ministers were quick to join in. Education Minister Dmitry Livanov was the first to have dismissed as utterly wrong the tit-for-tat tactic, which would backfire on children in the first place. Several other ministers joined their voices to the chorus of criticism.

“Whenever the future of a child is at stake, we must place the boy’s or girl’s interests above anything else,” Golodets said.

“I believe it is a mistake to consider the question of protecting our children in one package with sanctions in retaliation against the Magnitsky Act,” Mikhail Abyzov said. “These issues must be considered separately, and not in a hurry and unprofessionally.”

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is firmly against. “It is utterly wrong, and I am certain that the State Duma will eventually make a balanced decision.”

President Vladimir Putin has responded with understanding to the resolute mood of Russian lawmakers regarding the Dima Yakovlev Bill, presidential press-secretary Dmitry Peskov said.

“This tough and emotional response by Russian legislators is quite natural. Of course, the reaction of the executive authorities will be far more reserved, but in view of the well-known anti-Russian demarches Putin regards with understanding the position taken by Russian law-makers,” he said.

The Public Chamber on Tuesday had called for postponing the second reading of the bill. It argued that in case of the law’s adoption Russia would have to sever the agreement with the United States on cooperation in the field of child adoption and to quit the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

“The new amendment runs counter to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child,” a member of the commission for charity and volunteers work at the Public Chamber, Yelena Topoleva-Soldunova, said. “I believe that linking the future of orphaned children with a political act is immoral and cynical. It is a social measure, and it must be discussed with society.”

“The bill is a purely political response. The legislators have no moral right to get children involved,” she said.

“The hasty adoption of controversial acts has already seriously undermined the prestige of the current State Duma,” the daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta says. “And voting on an issue concerning orphaned children in connection with the Magnitsky Act may cause irreparable harm to parliament. It is not the ban on adoptions as such that really counts, but the arguments chosen to explain it. Also, it demonstrates cynicism and neglect of the future of helpless Russian citizens.”

The people have been able to see that the underlying motive is not care for the orphans, but an attempt to find the most painful retaliation against the Magnitsky Act, the daily says. The voters have had a chance to see that the legislators are not very much concerned about the future of children – in the United States or in Russia. Otherwise, the State Duma factions might have addressed this issue long before the adoption of the “anti-Russian” act in the United States.

According to Russia’s government ministries there are 660,000 to 730,000 orphaned children in the country, including social orphans. Up to two million children formally have parents, but in fact they are abandoned. The Education and Science Ministry says foreigners adopt an annual 3,500 children. Nine hundred of the adopted children leave for the United States.

In the meantime, experts say that against a backdrop of a general decline in the adoption rate the number of adoptions of children with disabilities remained at the previous level, which indicates that Russian families are reluctant to have them. According to the Education Ministry, of the more than 14,500 orphaned children who have left for the United States over the past seven years 444 had disabilities.

In the meantime, a sign-up campaign has begun in the world web against the Lakhova amendment. By the evening of Tuesday 20,000 signatures were collected. The authors of the petition hope for gathering 100,000 signatures.

MOSCOW, December 18