Some say, `Let them die in Russia'
By Sarah Larson, Dispatch/Argus Staff writer
MOSCOW -- Delta flight 31 on Tuesdays from Moscow to New York is called ``the baby flight.''
``Parents fly in over the weekend and pick up their baby,'' said Kerry Marks, director of Christian World Adoption's Russia program. ``They go to the hearing and embassy on Monday, and fly home Tuesday. There were 30 babies on my last flight.''
The babies take off into the sky in their parents' arms, bound for new lives in the United States. Russia is now the number one source for American parents adopting foreign children.
Twenty-one babies were adopted from the Friazino Baby House last year, said head doctor Tamara Alendroma. Seven went to Russian families and 14 to foreigners, including U.S. citizens.
Three girls labeled ``incurable invalids'' in Russia were adopted last year from the Friazino center by U.S. Mormons and now lead wonderful lives, Dr. Alendroma said. One was described as a midget, and another had Down Syndrome, she said.
The third was born with no sexual organs and a malformed urinary tract. U.S. doctors operated successfully, and she now leads a normal life, Dr. Alendroma said.
Adoption is literally a lifesaver for these disabled children.
``Those incurable invalids are being sent to the house of invalids where they're bound to stay for the rest of their lives. Sorry, but I can't think of any other way for invalids here,'' Dr. Alendroma said. ``But sometimes this miracle happens in the life of our orphanage.''
About 30 percent of the 105 babies at the Friazino Baby House are available for adoption, she said. She keeps in close contact with adoptive parents and says the children are well-loved abroad.
Dr. Alendroma's attitude is not typical of Russian orphanage officials, though. Every Oryol director the Quad-Citians visited was against international adoption. A 1997 national initiative attempted to ban international adoptions completely, but did not succeed.
Adoption practices depend on the attitudes of regional officials. Anti-adoption orphanage directors, ministry officials or regional judges can prevent adoptions regardless of the law, said Boris Altshuler, director of the Moscow children's rights advocacy group, Rights of the Child.
``EVERYTHING in Russia depends on personalities, not on the rules,'' he said.
Many officials are against domestic adoption, Mr. Altshuler said. Traditional prejudice against abandoned children and nationalistic zeal combine with greed to keep Russian adoption rates ridiculously low, he said.
However, some officials encourage international adoption for the money it brings in, Mr. Altshuler said. They suppress domestic adoption to make more children available for international adoption, he said, calling the practice ``absolutely stupid and even crazy.''
Last year, 5,500 Russian children were adopted internationally and 15,000 domestically, Mr. Altshuler said, citing figures from the Ministry of Education. Meanwhile, 250,000 children live in institutions, hoping for families, he said.
Nationalistic politicians have railed against international adoption, playing on national pride and fears of baby-selling and abuse. Many Russians want to keep Russian children in Russia, even if it means keeping them in institutions, he said.
``In Oryol and some other regions, nationalists put a ban on international adoption under the slogan `Let Russian orphans die in Russia,'|'' he said sarcastically. ``Actually these `patriots' also do not develop Russian domestic adoption, hence children are left in the dreadful conditions of the institutions. But if you speak with most of the public, they are happy that a few children, who are doomed here to a terrible life, have a miracle chance for a better life.''