Citing `trade' in children, Russia tightens rules on foreign adoptions

Date: 1994-11-18

The Atlanta Journal and The Atlanta Constitution

Author: Marcia Kunstel and Joseph Albright, Cox News Service

Moscow - Adopting Russian babies may be a much more difficult, risky process for American couples and Russians who try to help them when Russia's open-door policy on adoptions by foreigners slams shut and reopens. The U.S. Embassy tried Thursday to ward off an immediate surge of desperate Americans, appealing that they not rush to Moscow in hopes of getting a child before a Dec. 1 adoption moratorium takes effect. The proposal would abolish the requrement that only impaired children be available for foreign adoption. Instead, it would create a six- to nine-month waiting period for adoption by foreigners, to give Russian families the first opportunity to adopt the child.

By Marcia Kunstel and Joseph Albright STAFF CORRESPONDENTS

Moscow - Russia's open-door policy on adoptions by foreigners is slamming shut, and when it reopens, adopting babies may be a much more difficult, risky process for American couples and Russians who try to help them.

Russia was second only to South Korea in 1993 as a source of foreign adoptions for Americans. U.S. citizens adopted 695 Russian children last year, nearly 10 percent of all foreign adoptions.

The U.S. Embassy tried Thursday to ward off an immediate surge of desperate Americans, appealing that they not rush to Moscow in hopes of getting a child before a Dec. 1 adoption moratorium takes effect.

It urged them to wait for Russia to define new adoption procedures after the expected passage of a law aimed at stopping "baby trading."

"The situation is evolving and we do not wish Americans to travel great distances to meet with disappointment," the embassy warned.

Current law permits foreigners to adopt Russian children declared by a physician to suffer some physical or mental malady. But the regulation has been abused by Americans and others who pay thousands of dollars to agencies that essentially buy the children - either bribing doctors to falsify certificates or otherwise circumventing the law.

Even legal adoptions may cost Americans $16,000 to $18,000, including the expense of going to Russia to pick up the child, U.S. adoption agencies have said.

"The activity of various sorts of commercial structures is developing conditions for abuses, and crimes connected with the trading of children are being created," said an introduction to the proposed law, which is expected to be approved today by the State Duma, the lower chamber of parliament.

The proposal would abolish the requirement that only impaired children be available for foreign adoption. Instead, it would create a six-to nine-month waiting period for adoption by foreigners, to give Russian families the first opportunity to adopt the child.

It also would establish new penalties, including jail terms of up to a year, for serving as a "middleman" for an adoption.

The proposed changes were welcomed by one of America's oldest and largest adoption agencies, Holt International Childrens Services, which said they were consistent with evolving international law in the field.

"I think it's a positive step. Something needed to be done," said Dan Lauer, whose responsibilities include the Russian activities of the Eugene, Ore.-based adoption agency.

"Of course, there are going to be some disappointments for families caught in the system now or expecting to continue under the old system of adoptions there," Lauer said. "But in terms of Russia trying to look out for the best interests of its children and institute a system that is fair and equitable for everyone concerned, it's a responsible move."

The hastily approved adoption moratorium seemed inspired as much by the messy cutthroat competition among foreign adoption agencies as by the pending ratification of a new law, which may not take effect for months.

"Some agencies began to settle accounts with each other, some starting mutual surveillance, others widely using false licenses, and the government was puzzled by the situation," said Alla Dzugaeva, legal specialist in the Ministry of Education. "And unfortunately it is connected with the activity of American agencies."

She said the government has no authority to suspend the activity of specific agencies now, so it had no choice but to declare a full moratorium on all foreign adoptions.

"The country now is flooded with some entities which have nothing to do with the agencies. There are a lot of people around this issue who have no right to deal with this in accordance with international norms," she said. "They are purely commercial middlemen."

Dzugaeva, who believes the law must remove commercialism from the adoption system, tried to comfort prospective Americans who see the drying up of what has become one of the world's few remaining sources of very young, fair-skinned babies.

"The American citizens may sleep well. Their rights will not be infringed," she said.

Duma Deputy Tamara Leto, a sponsor of the law, said it corresponds with U.N. standards on international adoptions.

"First, there won't be a ban on adoption as in other CIS [Commonwealth of Independent States] countries," she said, citing Ukraine as a country where foreign adoptions are prohibited. "Second, we cancel the limits about the adoption of only sick children."

The major new restriction, however, is a waiting period that will mean adoptions will be impossible for foreigners for a minimum of six to nine months after the law takes effect.

The waiting period requires the government to spend up to nine months attempting to place with Russian families all orphaned children before making them available for foreign adoption. For babies under three months of age, the waiting period is six months

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