The Russian adoption ban and the evangelical orphan crusade

Over the last couple of weeks, Adoptionland has been up in arms regarding the Russian decision to ban inter-country adoptions of Russian children by American adopters. Yesterday, January 2, the Washington Post added the umpteenth article on the topic, focusing on the group hardest hit by the ban: evangelical Christian adopters.

Over the years, we have paid much attention to the so-called orphan crusade, a mission that is immensely popular among evangelical Christians. The adoption zeal of evangelical Christians is problematic because it arises from faith not from facts and evidence. This is all the more an issue since rational debate is not welcomed when zeal meets revved-up emotions.

In that light, it is not so bad that the group hardest hit by the adoption ban are evangelical Christian adopters. After all, it is a group of adults with desires, not a group of children with needs.

The case presented in the Washington Post article is an interesting one. It revolves around a boy named Anton, adopted by the Delgado family from Fort Worth, Texas. Anton was born as one of two twin boys to a surrogate mother. Learning about the boy's condition, Recessive Dystrophic Epidermolysis Bullosa, which makes the skin fragile and prone to blistering, Anton was no longer wanted and eventually put up for adoption.

Nowhere in the article does the Washington Post address the issue of surrogacy, which, in this case, contributed to the abandonment of Anton. Children with congenital disorders are more often abandoned than healthy infants, but unlike a normal delivery, surrogacy has a moment of acceptance, where the "receiving" party okays the delivered infant, making it easier to refuse an unhealthy child. This practice is not only cruel to unhealthy ("special needs") children born under these conditions, it also burdens society with the cost of taking care of these refused children.

Instead of focusing on this contributing factor, the article paints a picture of thousands of Russian children now losing the chance to be adopted. It even cites a number of 200,000 children, institutionalized in Russia at the moment, to paint a dark grim hopeless picture of the conditions under which many Russian children are forced to live.

In 2011, the United States imported less than 1,000 children from Russia, many of them having special needs, though not all of them as serious as the boy Anton, named in the article.

Compared to the number of children institutionalized in Russia, the level of inter-country adoption to the US is peanuts; it is less than a drop in a bucket. Furthermore, a significant number of children adopted from Russia don't fare well in the US, demonstrated by Russian children abused in their adoptive families, disruptions and dissolutions of adoptions of Russian children and Russian adoptees ending up in Residential Treatment Centers (the US equivalent of institutionalization).

In short, adoption reaches only a handful of the children needing help, and in those cases a child is adopted, there is a considerable chance that the measure only makes matters worse.

The Washington Post article, like so many publications on the issue, tends to perceive adoption by Americans as the last chance a child has for a better future. It thereby omits the fact that the United States only imports one third of all placements of Russian children in foreign countries. Both Spain and Italy take in large numbers of Russian children and maintain waiting lists to manage demand. France, Canada and Germany too would love to receive more Russian children than the current quota allotted to them. All of these countries have another advantage over the United States, they all have better health care systems, so the needs of these children will not depend on the money raised from a garage sales or any other form of charity.

The Russian adoption ban may interfere with the desires of prospective adopters, especially those of evangelical Christian denomination, but it remains to be seen if it really is detrimental to the well-being of Russian children. There are many reasons to expect that very few children will actually be affected by this measure, unless one considers growing up in Madrid to be worse than growing up in Cincinnati.


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