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Opinions clash again over ban on adoptions of Russian children in US

January 10, 2013, 16:33 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila

Russian society is split over the law banning the adoptions of Russian children by US citizens – the so-called Dima Yakovlev act, so named in memory of a Russian boy who died by negligence of his American step-father.

A teenage boy with health problems, who has lost hope for being adopted by an American family, is said to have written a letter to the Russian president asking him for permission to leave for the US. Protests against the ban on adoption are continuing. The Opposition has warned that it may bring tens of thousands into the streets in protest of what it argues was inadequate response to the United States’ Magnitsky Act.

In retaliation for the Magnitsky Act President Vladimir Putin on December 28 signed a law prohibiting US citizens from adopting Russian orphans. The law took effect on January 1. On the same day Putin signed a decree entitled On Some Measures to Implement the State Policy in the Sphere of Protection of Orphaned Children and Children Left without Parental Care. According to the document the government is expected to provide support by February 15 for those Russians who decide to adopt orphaned children, and also to ease the adoption formalities (by reducing the required minimum floor space of available housing and the amount of accounting and reports the adoptive parents are expected to provide).

Meanwhile, as newspapers in Chelyabinsk said on Wednesday, a resident of that city in the Urals, orphan Maxim Kargapoltsev, 14, suffering from a genetic disorder, has written a message to President Putin asking him for permission to emigrate to the United States to join his potential adoptive family. The dailies said the teenage boy fully trusts his potential adoptive parents, because he has known them for seven years already.

The student of Chelyabinsk’s boarding school N. 13 for orphaned children with disabilities got acquainted with the Wallen couple from Virginia seven years ago, said the Komsomolskaya Pravda in Chelyabinsk daily. Since then Maxim has regularly corresponded with the American couple and talked to them through skype many times. The boy has been to the United States once, and the Wallens have visited him in Russia.

A year ago the Wallens asked the children’s rights commissioner in the Chelyabinsk Region, Margarita Pavlova, for permission to adopt the boy. The consent was given and procedural formalities began. The bureaucratic machine was set in motion, the necessary documents were being readied and the boy was looking forward to the day when his new life will start elsewhere…

“We expected that a far milder version of the Dima Yakovlev law will be adopted, and that it will not be applied to the families who are about to complete the formalities,” the daily quotes Pavlova as saying. “Regrettably, the ban is applied to all. But in our country a child with grave health problems has virtually no chances of being adopted. This means the boy is doomed to stay lonely and neglected. The Wallens are in dismay.”

The director of the boarding school in Chelyabinsk where Maxim lives has dismissed the media rumors about a letter to the president many dailies have reprinted. Interviewed on the Business FM radio station, the school director, Denis Matsko said: “This is not true. It is a canard all mass media have published quite eagerly. He has written no letters to Putin, he has made no requests.”

Presidential press-secretary Dmitry Peskov later said that no traces of such a letter had been found at the office of the presidential staff. “There has been no confirmation of the rumors the boy has ever sent such a message,” he stated.

Whatever the case, the fierce debate over the scandalous law is continuing unabated in Russian society. As the website has said, the presidential children’s rights commissioner, Pavel Astakhov, has said that the Russian orphans who were about to be adopted by US citizens would stay in Russia. Although the Russian-US adoption agreement shall stay effective for twelve months after it has been severed.

The Public Chamber has made it quite clear that it will be pressing for the proper completion of the adoption procedures in relation to the orphans launched earlier. Public Chamber member Yelena Topoleva-Soldunova told the daily Vedomosti in an interview that if some Russian orphans have already got acquainted with their likely step-parents in the United States, their hopes must not be shattered by any means. Otherwise the kids may suffer an irreparable emotional injury. Topoleva-Soldunova said that the issue would be discussed in the Public Chamber, and that her colleagues and she personally would do their utmost to secure the adoption of such children.

At the end of the year United Russia legislator Robert Schpegel proposed an amendment that would make children with disabilities exempt from the operation of this law. In his explanatory remarks the legislator said that 45,000 such children were being kept at special boarding schools in Russia and the full ban on their adoption by US citizens “means that some disable children will possibly never have an adopted family or get proper medical care.”

“In 2011 US families adopted 44 disabled children, and currently the necessary procedures are in progress in relation to 46 other children, whom the ban will deny the chance of being adopted.”

In 2011 US citizens adopted 956 children. While the overall number of adoptions by US citizens has dwindled, the number of adopted children with disabilities remained unchanged. This means that Russian families are reluctant to have them. Of the more than 14,500 orphaned children who have left for the United States over this period of time 444 had disabilities.

Schpegel told Kommersant that it was too early to speculate about the chances his amendment may be approved, because neither the United Russia faction, nor the State Duma’s committee concerned have discussed it yet.

In the meantime, the president of the non-governmental organization The Right of the Child, Public Chamber member Boris Altshuler, told the daily that “rescuing 40 children from Russia’s boarding schools is a deed worthy of a monument, while not letting the other 900 leave deserves the pillory.” He promised to ask French President Francois Hollande to strip Russian children’s rights commissioner Pavel Astakhov of his Schengen visa, because "this man, a firm supporter of the ban on foreign adoptions of Russian children, keeps travelling to southern France to enjoy himself and his cynicism is boundless.”

In the meantime, the Opposition is getting ready to protest against the “anti-Magnitsky bill law,” for which it will call a mass street procession on January 13. The demonstration, which has already been agreed with the Moscow authorities, will be held in the city’s center under the “March against Scoundrels” motto. This is an allusion against those who bear responsibility for the adoption of the Dima Yakovlev law or support it.

“We are keen to stress the idea this is not a political demonstration, but a civic one. Its demand is very specific – cancellation of the ban on US adoptions of Russian children,” a member of the march’s organizing committee and of Solidarity, Sergei Davidis, said. The Opposition is also going to demand the dissolution of the State Duma that has passed the law.