Where Russia goes, will others follow?



From the New York Post

International adoption has been in the news a lot lately. In the days prior to the Christmas holidays, newsfeeds were abuzz with the reports that Russia was going to enact legislation effectively closing down adoptions to the U.S. as a retaliation for the U.S.'s recent legislation approving sanctions to Russia for human rights violation.

This past week, China also made news, but interestingly this story about baby buying and corruption for international adoption was posted in the international version of the NYT and not the U.S. version. 


From the New York Times

People are naturally outraged, and the usual pundits have weighed in. Many are saying Russia is putting politics over children, saying children are being punished by not being able to be adopted.

Except that let's remember Russia isn't banning international adoption outright, it's banning adoption to the United States

Just under 1000 children were adopted by American families last year, a little less than a third or so of the total number (3,400) of Russian children placed for international adoption from the country. 

Whether the bill was passed as a retaliatory political statement or not, it is striking to me that they chose to enact such politics through what they thought was something that would get people's attention: international adoption. I also believe that had the U.S. not had so many problems already regarding adoptions from Russia, this may not have been the road Russia would have taken.

When you consider the return of Artyom by the Tennessee adoptive parent Torry Hansen, or the abuse of Masha Allen by her adoptive father, or the Ranch for Kids, the residential placement that specializes in treating Russian adoptees, or the deaths of Russian adoptees due to the abuse or neglect of their U.S. adoptive parents, is it really any wonder that Russia would make this move?

A total of 19 Russian adopted children (3% of the estimated 60,000 children adopted from Russia) have reportedly died (see this account or this one). And for those of you who say only 3%, the percentage of children in the general population who died in the U.S. due to abuse and neglect is around 0.2% (2010 figures). I find this particularly egregious since supposedly adoption is to be the safety intervention for a child who has already experienced abuse, neglect and abandonment.  [ETA 9:49 pm: Thanks to readers who pointed out the percentages should be 0.03% (not 3%) and 0.002% (not 0.2%) above.]

Clearly the move is political, however I think that this was a natural and expected reaction from Russia. Without all the problems involving Russian adoptees over the past two decades, and without the U.S. being more concerned about the entitlement of American parents to adopt children at their demand than other children's human rights (for example, the U.S. still has not ratified the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child) then I don't think Russia would have taken this move. Clearly the problems involving Russian adopted children over the past two decades alone was not incentive enough to create this ban and recently the U.S. and Russia had worked on a bilateral agreement concerning protections of children adopted to the U.S.

So Russia made a political move. As if the U.S. doesn't do that as well, all the time. And perhaps maybe 1000 children in Russia won't get adopted by American families. That doesn't mean they won't get adopted. They could still go to other countries, or be adopted domestically in Russia since the country has also been working hard on improving their domestic adoption practices. Several years ago I spoke with a delegation of Russian child welfare professionals, judges, and orphanage directors. They spoke about their biggest challenge in domestic adoption – getting people to consider adopting sibling groups, older children and those with disabilities…..hm. Sounds familiar, like all those American families who won't adopt our children in foster care with siblings, who are older, and who have disabilities.

I predict that Russia won't be the only country that will ban or impose even more strict criteria for adoption in the near future. And the U.S., being resourceful, is already working on other countries to open adoption programs. When it comes to international adoption I see it as a re-work of this old metaphor – when one door closes, we break open windows. 

Where is the outrage and concern for children's safety and well-being in other parts of the world? Or do we only care for them if they're considered "adoptable" and available to Americans?



NYT: Putin signs bill that bars international adoption, upending families

CNN: Families in 'limbo" after Russian adoption ban

Guardian: Russia's ban on adoption isn't about children's rights

Repost: Inside the mind and heart of an internationally adopted child

This is another re-post from my other blog that was written while on hiatus from this blog. People sometimes have asked me about adoption-themed books for children and young readers. Honestly I think most are terrible. I agree with my friend and scholar of children's literature, Sarah Park Dahlen, that most of these children's books on adoption were written more to satisfy and soothe adoptive parents than adoptees themselves. That said, this was my review of the book, Betti on the Highwire, which is one of the few I can recommend. For more of my book suggestions, please see my recommended reading page here

 Originally posted May 11, 2011.


This afternoon, a children's novel I ordered online arrived in my mailbox and a few short hours later I had devoured the book. Betti on the High Wire is the story of a young girl, Babo, living in an unnamed country devastated by war. Babo finds herself unexpectedly adopted by Americans (or "melons" as Babo refers to them because of their round, pink faces) and soon she is living in an unnamed town in the U.S. with a new name, new sister, new parents – and she vows to never "adapt" or forget where she came from.

Author Lisa Railsback was inspired to write the story from her work volunteering in a refugee camp. As a Korean adoptee, I am often skeptical about how international adoption is portrayed in novels, particularly the feelings and thoughts of the internationally adopted child themselves. Often I find children's books about international adoption to be largely about making adoptive parents feel better as much as they may be outwardly intended to reassure the internationally adopted child. Babo/Betti is a complex child and I found Railsback's conception of what Babo/Betti thinks and feels about her experience being adopted by Americans, and having to leave everything she has known and loved in her country – especially her chosen family there – to be the most realistic and complex portrayal that I have read.

Adoption books for children being what they are – that is typically all nicely resolved in the end, this book doesn't exactly challenge the dominant narrative about adoption. The unnamed country is, after all, portrayed in pretty stark terms, providing exactly the American-style justification for taking Babo away. Babo and the other children of course must be dirty, mostly illiterate, scavenging for food, etc., yet remain likable (i.e. not prone towards Reactive Attachment Disorder). And while Railsback does critique the consumerist, materialist and consumptive patterns of Americans to some extent, as well as portray how mean white American children can be towards children who are different, it is unlikely that a real internationally adopted child of this age would adapt as quickly as Betti does in the book. While the choice to make Babo able to speak some English helps the reader, it is pretty unrealistic in my opinion and serves more as a device to move the character through the story plot more quickly than it is realistic for most older, internationally adopted children (such as the little girl adopted in the movie Wo Ai  Ni Mommy, who would have been close to Babo's age in the story).

Even so, I recommend this book for its most nuanced portrayal of an internationally adopted child's inner thoughts and feelings that I've read so far. If I were an adoption agency, I would require all prospective adoptive parents to read this book before any child adopted internationally was placed in their home.


I am not going to post on the situation in Haiti, especially since I can't watch a single news story on the tragedy without it ending with some piece about all the orphans being airlifted to the U.S. or the Netherlands. It's going to be the next generation's version of Operation Baby Lift.

Instead, I am going to link to two important pieces I believe everyone needs to read. Trust me, there are enough folks who think unquestioned airlifting of children out of Haiti is "in the best interest of the child" to counter these two perspectives.

International Social Services position: click here.

A Korean adoptee's perspective: Whites Make Pact With God, Expedite Haitian Adoptions click here for the story.

A comparison of the wellbeing of orphans in institutions

I haven't read this yet, but plan to soon.

Comparison of the Wellbeing of Orphans and Abandoned Children Ages 6–12
in Institutional and Community-Based Care Settings in 5 Less Wealthy


are struggling to care for the estimated 143,000,000 orphans and
millions more abandoned children worldwide. Global policy makers are
advocating that institution-living orphans and abandoned children (OAC)
be moved as quickly as possible to a residential family setting and
that institutional care be used as a last resort. This analysis tests
the hypothesis that institutional care for OAC aged 6–12 is associated
with worse health and wellbeing than community residential care using
conservative two-tail tests.


Positive Outcomes for Orphans (POFO) study employed two-stage random
sampling survey methodology in 6 sites across 5 countries to identify
1,357 institution-living and 1,480 community-living OAC ages 6–12, 658
of whom were double-orphans or abandoned by both biological parents.
Survey analytic techniques were used to compare cognitive functioning,
emotion, behavior, physical health, and growth. Linear mixed-effects
models were used to estimate the proportion of variability in child
outcomes attributable to the study site, care setting, and child levels
and institutional versus community care settings. Conservative analyses
limited the community living children to double-orphans or abandoned

Principal Findings

emotional and cognitive functioning, and physical growth were no worse
for institution-living than community-living OAC, and generally better
than for community-living OAC cared for by persons other than a
biological parent. Differences between study sites explained 2–23% of
the total variability in child outcomes, while differences between care
settings within sites explained 8–21%. Differences among children
within care settings explained 64–87%. After adjusting for sites, age,
and gender, institution vs. community-living explained only 0.3–7% of
the variability in child outcomes.


study does not support the hypothesis that institutional care is
systematically associated with poorer wellbeing than community care for
OAC aged 6–12 in those countries facing the greatest OAC burden. Much
greater variability among children within care settings was observed
than among care settings type. Methodologically rigorous studies must
be conducted in those countries facing the new OAC epidemic in order to
understand which characteristics of care promote child wellbeing. Such
characteristics may transcend the structural definitions of
institutions or family homes.

Citation: Whetten K, Ostermann J, Whetten RA, Pence
BW, O'Donnell K, et al. (2009) A Comparison of the Wellbeing of Orphans
and Abandoned Children Ages 6–12 in Institutional and Community-Based
Care Settings in 5 Less Wealthy Nations. PLoS ONE 4(12): e8169.

Here is a link to the abstract.

Enfants de Boches

What I find interesting is how familiar this seems. From the New York Times: Tracing Roots Fostered by War, Severed by Shame

The so-called enfants de Boches
— r
oughly, children of the Huns — born during the war to French women
and German soldiers, are seeking to fill a hole in their lives, hunting
for long-lost German fathers they never knew and speaking openly of the
maltreatment they suffered from their French neighbors. It is estimated
that 200,000 children were born of these wartime love affairs.

of the time depict young women, their heads shorn in shame, being
hounded through villages, clutching the children of German fathers. About 20,000 women had their heads shaved. Many rejected the children, gave them up for adoption or placed them in orphanages.

now these children, in their late 60s, are struggling to put their
lives in order while there is still time. They have formed an
association and sought the help of the German and French governments to
try to identify their fathers, in many cases already dead, or families
that their fathers founded in Germany after the war.


Children fathered by the soldiers of occupying armies are by no
means unique to France. But the enmity between the French and Germans
after two bitter wars often turned these children’s lives into hell.

her mother’s death, Mrs. Nivoix-Sevestre was placed with foster
parents, then in an orphanage. When she was 13, she learned from a
girlfriend — she said it seemed that everyone in her village knew about
it but her — that her father was named Werner (no known last name), was
probably Austrian and was most likely killed near Smolensk, Russia, in
1942 or 1943.

You can read the rest here.

A different way of thinking about orphanages in Africa

Thanks to Rich for the link. From the New York Times, an article about an innovative and different way of dealing with orphans in Tanzania.

“In less wealthy nations, people are being very creative,” said Kathryn Whetten, an expert on orphan care from Duke University.
She had not seen the orphanage in Berega or encountered others like it.
But that did not surprise her. Little is known about orphan care in
Africa, she said, because little research has been done. On a recent
trip to Moshi, a Tanzanian city of about 150,000, she said, local
officials knew of three orphanages. She and her colleagues found 25
there, most with 10 to 25 children each.

The orphanage here, started in 1965 by United German Mission Aid, an
evangelical Christian mission, began recruiting relatives to move in
about five years ago. Ute Klatt, a German missionary and nurse who has
been director of the orphanage for 10 years, said she learned about the
practice from another orphanage in Tanzania. Now many of the children
at the orphanage are cared for by a teenage girl from the extended
family — a binti, in Swahili — often a sister, cousin or aunt, who
lives with them and learns how to take care of them.

The young women come to love the children, and will look after them
when they leave the orphanage, Ms. Klatt said. In addition, the bintis,
some of whom have never been to school, gain some education. Ms. Klatt
provides schoolbooks, she said, and the young women study and teach one
another in the evenings. Many arrive illiterate and leave knowing how
to read. She also teaches them the basics about health, and they learn
sewing and batik, and share the cooking in an outdoor kitchen.“Before
we had this system, the families weren’t visiting, and it was hard to
reintegrate the children,” Ms. Klatt said. “There were attachment

This last paragraph really struck a chord with me.

Ms. Klatt said it had been her dream since childhood to work as a
missionary in Africa, though she had never imagined running an
orphanage. She said one of her greatest rewards was when older children
who had been in her care came back to visit, and were obviously healthy
and happy, living with their families back in their home villages.

It would not surprise me at all if Ms. Klatt has been advised to begin an adoption program. I know that others who have gone to Africa to begin or work for orphanages in other countries have found that starting adoption programs have been one way to provide funding – then pretty soon the operations become about international adoptions. Especially since so many of these children are the high demand infants that people want to adopt.

You can read the entire article here.


1. A very thought provoking blog post and the article it was based on.

2. Actress Nia Vardolos adopts a child from foster care, bucking the trend to adopt international (thanks Rich for the tip!). Her story on People.com.

Trying to adopt had been a long and frustrating process. But, when we
connected with an American Foster Family Agency, it happened very
quickly. One night, the phone rang – the social worker told me we'd
been "matched" with a 3-year-old girl.

I hung up the phone and stood still for a second. Then, I had
to sit down. Within a minute, I was laying on the floor. Yeah, this was
real: A little girl was coming to our home. Tomorrow.

There wasn't a baby shower, there wasn't time to discuss with
family and friends, there was no way to really prepare for her arrival.

(although I hope she isn't implying that the child literally just was dropped off. In my state, this would not happen. There would be transitional visits for a while before the child was permanently adopted).

3. From The Hankyoreh:  Adoptee rights organizations and S. Korean NGOs sponsor events supporting “a day without adoption” to address root-causes

Adoptee Solidarity Korea (ASK), a Korean adoptee organization,
sponsored an afternoon symposium at the National Human Rights
Commission of Korea (NHRCK) about alternatives to intercountry (ICA)
adoption with representatives from five NGOs on Friday, May 8.

The event, hosted together with the Korean Foster Care Association, the
Korean Unwed Mothers Support Network, A-Ha! Sexuality Education
Counseling Center, TacTeen and the Korea Sexual Violence Relief Center,
was one in a weekend series held in conjunction with Adoption Day,
advancing the idea of “having a day without adoption.”

Read the whole article here.

4. Once again the NYT is tackling international adoption. This time they put together a round table with several "experts." I am likely going to have more to say about this, but for now, why are the usual suspects there? Need a staunch conservative pro-IA lawyer? Elizabeth Bartholet, check. Need an expert on orphans and orphanges? Adoptive parent Jane Aronson, check. Need an adoptive parent who is critical? David Smolin, check. Need an adult adoptee perspective…..oh wait – that's right. An adult adoptee perspective is NEVER a regular at a round table. How dumb of me to forget. We don't count once we are no longer babies or toddlers. Seriously, my opinion of the New York Times keeps slipping lower and lower.

Read the NYT roundtable here.

**Edited to add**

5. A conversation about E.J. Graff's investigative piece on international adoption by an adoptive parent on Anti-Racist Parent. Read the piece here.

Re/Defining Orphans

Two very important statements about the definition of orphans. One of the main points – that within the the US and other economically developed nations, "orphan" is a term to describe a child who has lost both parents to death (as in, children in these nations are considered orphans if they’ve lost both parents to death*). However, as UNICEF and other NGOs define the term, in the 1990s, "Orphan" was used to describe a child who had lost one or more parents. This is no small consideration as it changes the scope of justification in terms of how children in need are deemed appropriate for different kinds of services both in country and abroad.

[* Edited to add: As Rich brought to my attention, the U.S. State Department’s definition of who counts as an orphan is here. This definition defined by the INA is not what I was referring to above; as I should have worded better. I meant that when people in the U.S. consider children living in this country "orphans" they mean those with two parents deceased.For the purposes of international adoption, orphan is defined by the State Department similarly as UNICEF and the Hague Convention.]

Unicef’s definition of orphans
Ethica: Majority of Global "Orphans" have families

This paragraph from Ethica sums up how I feel about the over-justification of saving "orphans" from foreign countries.

13 million orphans is still a vast sea of needy children, and a number
which far exceeds the number of children adopted each year. But of
special note is UNICEF’s comment that 95% of all orphans are age 5 and
This contrasts sharply with the demographics of adoptions to the
U.S. According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services 2006
statistic on orphan visas granted to American families adopting
children from abroad, only 3,337 of the total 20,705 children adopted
that year were age 5 and older.
Ethica recognizes that the majority of
younger children who have been internationally adopted legally
qualified as orphans under U.S. immigration law, and were recognized as
orphans by their birth countries. However, these statistics indicate
that babies orphaned through parental relinquishment do not constitute
the majority of the orphan population.
While it is true that many
children who have a surviving parent may still require placement in
adoptive families, these statistics also challenge the adoption
community to look carefully at assumptions that current practices are
based upon.

UNICEF has been demonized among some groups of adoption agencies and adoptive parents for what they believe is an anti-adoption philosophy; however I fully support UNICEF’s hierarchy of placement decisions which follow the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-Operation in Respect to International Adoption:

  • Recognizing that the child, for the full and harmonious development
    of his or her personality, should grow up in a family environment, in
    an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding,

  • Recalling that each State should take, as a matter of priority,
    appropriate measures to enable the child to remain in the care of his
    or her family of origin,

  • Recognizing that intercountry adoption may offer the advantage of a
    permanent family to a child for whom a suitable family cannot be found
    in his or her State of origin,

  • Convinced of the necessity to take measures to ensure that
    intercountry adoptions are made in the best interests of the child and
    with respect for his or her fundamental rights, and to prevent the
    abduction, the sale of, or traffic in children

It is NOT that UNICEF is completely anti-adoption; what they ARE is an organization justly concerned with ETHICAL practices.

For children who cannot be raised by their own families, an appropriate
alternative family environment should be sought in preference to
institutional care, which should be used only as a last resort and as a
temporary measure. Inter-country adoption is one of a range of care
options which may be open to children, and for individual children who
cannot be placed in a permanent family setting in their countries of
origin, it may indeed be the best solution. 

…At the same time, lack of regulation and oversight, particularly in the
countries of origin, coupled with the potential for financial gain, has
spurred the growth of an industry around adoption, where profit, rather
than the best interests of children, takes centre stage.  Abuses
include the sale and abduction of children, coercion of parents, and
bribery, as well as trafficking to individuals whose intentions are to
exploit rather than care for children.

How one can be opposed to that, I don’t comprehend.

AP Exclusive: US alleges baby-selling in Vietnam

Two Documentaries about Chinese adoption – “Found in China” and “Long Wait for Home”

A new documentary about Chinese adoptees. From the official website:

“Found in China,”
a documentary by Tai-Kai Productions, follows a group of six Midwestern
families and their 9- to 13-year adopted Chinese daughters who climb
the Wall, taste the tea, visit their orphanages and the people who once
held them–all the while surviving the emotional and psychological
demands of such a heritage trip. 

You can read reviews and view trailers for the film at the website, Found in China

From the website for "Long Wait for Home":

Despite a surge in media coverage of adoptions from China, there are many unanswered questions: Who are the birth parents and under what circumstances do they decide to give away their babies? How do children end up in orphanages and what kinds of lives do they live there? Moreover, with so many “foreigners” going to China to pick up these Chinese babies, what do the average Chinese people feel and think about Americans and international adoption?

To answer these questions, Dr. Changfu Chang and his team present the widely anticipated documentary, Long Wait For Home. For the first time, we sit face to face with birth parents who share with us the hard decisions they have made and the emotional toll they have suffered; we go to orphanages and take an intimate  look at the living conditions of children usually inaccessible to film crews; we also converse with a wide range of ordinary Chinese citizens and scholars
on the subject of international adoption.


You can read more at the website for Long Wait for Home