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.
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?