RUSSIA SUSPENDS FOREIGN ADOPTIONS
BABY-SELLING CLAIMS PROMPT TRACKING SYSTEM FOR COUNTRY'S ORPHANS
LOS ANGELES TIMES
MOSCOW - Russia will suspend adoptions by foreign citizens starting Dec. 1 for an indefinite period to resolve allegations of baby-selling and other abuses.
"There are hundreds of swindlers representing private companies and agencies who are scouring Russia in search of children. Who knows what they are doing here?" Alexander Fedoseyev, head of the department in the Russian Education Ministry that supervises adoptions, announced earlier this month.
Fedoseyev and other officials said adoptions will be suspended to set up a tracking system for Russia's estimated 100,000 orphans and make sure Russian law is being applied.
Many Russian children's advocates and orphanage officials are anxious to see children settled with any family - even a foreign one - that can provide them a good home. However, officials are also frequently accused of falsifying medical certificates to help "export" healthy children, allegedly in exchange for bribes.
The move will be a blow to roughly 1,000 American families who have submitted applications to the U.S. Embassy in hopes of finding children to adopt. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia has become an adoption mecca - more popular now even than South Korea. Americans adopt more Russian children than do other foreigners.
In the past year, Americans have adopted 1,779 children from the former Soviet Union, a U.S. Embassy official said. Between eight and 20 new applications arrive every day.
U.S. officials said they expect the ban to last at least several months, possibly much longer. Paperwork already submitted to the U.S. Embassy in Moscow will be kept on file.
Ukraine has also suspended foreign adoptions, although it is expected to enact a new adoption law and lift its moratorium within months.
Belarus lifted its adoption ban in January, the U.S. Embassy representative said, adding, however: "I haven't seen a single child from Belarus since then, maybe one."
Adoptions from other former Soviet republics may still be possible.
What worries U.S. officials more than the adoption moratorium is a bill making its way through the Russian Parliament that would outlaw adoption brokers - even nonprofit agencies - and impose Draconian penalties on anyone attempting to profit from adoptions.
Anyone convicted of the illegal export of minors abroad could face up to 15 years in prison and confiscation of all property.
In practice, adoption would be all but impossible for most Americans without an agency to help arrange travel to Russia, an escort for the trek from orphanage to orphanage, translation services and the myriad of documents and procedures required for a legal Russian adoption.
The new law would give Russian families first priority in adopting children. Children who have not been adopted by Russians after six months (three months if the child is younger than 3 years) would then be eligible for adoption by foreigners.
Fedoseyev said he was not aware of any cases of "baby-selling" or any other abuses, despite media reports that black-market adoption agencies are flourishing in Russia along with legal ones, charging foreigners up to $20,000 for a young, white child.
For more information:
The State Department released a telephone number for Americans seeking information about the status of Russian adoptions: (202) 647-3444.