Magnitsky List Counterpart to Stress Adoption Deaths

By Alec Luhn / themoscowtimes.com
December 11, 2012

A United Russia lawmaker on Tuesday proposed that legislation in response to the U.S. Magnitsky Act be named in honor of a Russian toddler who died in the care of an American adoptive parent.

The bill, which imposes economic and visa sanctions on Americans accused of violating Russians' human rights, is expected to go into force on Jan. 1.

"United Russia is proposing to name the law after Dmitry Yakovlev, a 2-year-old child who was burned alive in Purcellville, Virginia," Vyacheslav Nikonov, first deputy head of the Duma's International Affairs Committee, said in comments carried by Interfax.

Nikonov said the legislation should be dedicated to the memory of Russian children who have died at the hands of American adoptive parents.

Yakovlev died of heatstroke in July 2008 after his adoptive father, Miles Harrison, left him in a sport utility vehicle. Harrison was acquitted of involuntary manslaughter in December 2008.

The law would only unofficially be known as the Yakovlev act, since Russian legislation is not typically named after people, Nikonov told The Moscow Times.

The list of people forbidden entry to Russia, to be drawn up by the Foreign Ministry, would likely include not only adoptive parents but also Americans involved with the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and with the detention of convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout, he said.

"The emphasis is on all categories of rights violators, not just those of children," Nikonov said.

Boris Altshuler, head of the children's rights watchdog Rights of the Child, said that by going after American parents like Harrison, the legislation punishes thousands of Russian children who could go to families in the United States.

The accidental death of children happens in all countries, and adoption in the States is certainly no worse than adoption in Russia, he said.

"It's about the same as if there were an accident on the road and one person died, and because of this we forbid all residents from leaving their homes," Altshuler said. "To engage in such politics from this while ignoring our internal problems, that is very simply an attempt to revive the Cold War using children's problems."

Nikonov said the law only seeks to hold adoptive parents of dead children liable and shouldn't hamper the process for people adopting Russian children abroad.

Children's ombudsman Pavel Astakhov said Tuesday that the Yakovlev list could be filled with the names of 22 foreign parents accused in criminal cases in Russia, including Harrison. According to Astakhov, 19 adopted Russian children have died in the United States over the past decade.

Previously, RIA-Novosti reported that 1,220 adopted children died in Russia in the 15 years after the Soviet breakup, 12 of whom where killed by their parents.

Altshuler said it's difficult to know how many adopted children die in Russia, which does not keep official statistics on adoption deaths. He said the number 1,220 most likely referred to children in foster families.

The State Duma's Constitution and State Affairs Committee recommended on Tuesday that lawmakers vote to approve the Yakovlev bill in its first reading.

Meanwhile, the Canadian Parliament was set to discuss its own Magnitsky list Tuesday. Hermitage Capital Management CEO William Browder, who was instrumental in introducing the U.S. Magnitsky bill in Congress, was slated to address the parliament's Subcommittee on International Human Rights.

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Official statistics

Children's ombudsman Pavel Astakhov said Tuesday that the Yakovlev list could be filled with the names of 22 foreign parents accused in criminal cases in Russia, including Harrison. According to Astakhov, 19 adopted Russian children have died in the United States over the past decade.

Previously, RIA-Novosti reported that 1,220 adopted children died in Russia in the 15 years after the Soviet breakup, 12 of whom where killed by their parents.

Altshuler said it's difficult to know how many adopted children die in Russia, which does not keep official statistics on adoption deaths. He said the number 1,220 most likely referred to children in foster families.

What good are lists, if official statistics are not kept and monitored, and change (new standards of care)  is not enforced?

Lists

Indeed lists by themselves are useless, especially when there are no official statistics. But if we had official statistics, what worth would lists have? What knowledge can we derive from a number?

When we started our abuse cases section, it was motivated by the fact that there had been no serious research into abuse within adoptive families. To get some factual information about such abuse, we started collecting information about each and every case we could possibly learn about. Now, many years later, we have collected information 571 cases. Again we should ask ourselves, what does such a number mean?

To be honest, I think it means nothing other than that we have a boat load of interesting information about many cases, that can be used to improve placement decisions. Any other view is a moral morass.

Suppose we knew the actual number of abuse cases within adoptive families, how should we interpret that number? I have heard estimates that claim abuse in adoptive families is not higher than in families by natural construction and therefore there is no reason to be alarmed. This position assumes that adoptive families are somehow comparable to families by natural construction, so as long as the abuse figures are in similar order, everything is fine.

We could also take the position that adoptive families are carefully selected from the population as to create as ideal an adoptive family for a child as possible, so every abuse case is a failure of the system.

I think the latter approach is actually the most healthy one. Abuse in natural families can be prevented to a degree, but has to be weighed against the right of privacy from the prying eyes of government. A certain level of child abuse in natural families, no matter how hard we try, can not be prevented without taking draconic measures on all child bearing citizens.

Adoptive families however can be selected as the fine the fleur of society; people especially gifted to raise children. There are enough adoption applicants to actually make such a selection possible.

Instead of selecting people based upon their capacities to take in children, applicants are often approved for adoption without rigorous screening, and simply end up on a waiting list on a first come first served base. Instead of selecting people for their abilities to raise children, prospective adopters are selected on their abilities to stay on a waiting list.

No real effort is made to seriously select the right adoptive parents, and if abuse statistics were available and showed that abuse in adoptive families happens just as often as in natural families, it would demonstrate very little else than the fact that screening actually has no effect.

Instead of focusing on numbers, it's important to look at each individual case and learn how the system has failed that one particular child. I think that is the value of the abuse cases section we started. It has enough information for professionals to actually prevent adoptees from being abused. All that is required is time to absorb the information, learn what patterns of abuse are common in adoption and learn how applicants that are prone to such patterns can be filtered out.

In the end it all comes down to professional standards, which don't get improved by drawing lists or adding numbers, but by reading about the horrid details resulting from improper placement and learning what red flags were missed or ignored.

Pound Pup Legacy