exposing the dark side of adoption
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International Child Adopters on the Edge of the Law

Shady Business in the Humanitarian Sphere

By Sergei Mikhalvch

Passport Magazine

Number 5,  September 1997

There are now half a million orphans and about two million homeless children in Russia. The government fails to provide decent living standards in orphanages and children's homes. Will these children be any better off in Switzerland or the United States? Of course, they will, but the government must exercise strict control over international child adoption.

Who adopts Russian children?

Despite an official ban on firms providing child-adoption services, such American firms and agencies alone now number close 50. They are not registered anywhere, even at the United States' embassy in Moscow. Not all the firms that began to provide child adoption services in Russia have managed to survive. Many of them were forced out of business by competitors.

The most notorious firm is Frank headed by an American, Ronald Frank, and our former compatriot Nina Kostina. This firm was quite active in St. Petersburg and in the Orel, Saratov, Tomsk and other Russian provinces. It began by exporting wheat but soon switched to the more lucrative child-adoption business. The firm set a sort of record when it helped four children get adopted by one family. The prices charged for the adoption of one child is U.S. $ 13,500. Frank's activities were investigated by the Washington Post, which found out that the firm used a fake license issue to Coordinators 2, an unknown firm based in Virginia. Frank's attempts to bribe officials have frequently been exposed in Russia.

One recent attempt to get a few children from the Siberian city of Tomsk adopted by a foreign family ended in a scandal. In that case, it was not Frank that provided the adoption services but an unknown subsidiary which had no right to provide such services.

The most sensational scandal burst when Frank tried to arrange a visit of a number of high- ranking officials of the Russian Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Justice to the United States. These visits were to be arranged at the expense of the firm. The invitations to Russian officials were written on fake forms of the FBI. This drew the FBI's attention to Frank and it began an investigation of the firm's operations.

Another American firm, Hawaii International, helped children from the Vologda region get adopted by families in Taiwan and other exotic countries. Its representatives openly negotiated quotas for sick and healthy children to be adopted. The firm also operated in the Lipetsk and Rostov regions and in the Krasnoyarsk and Altai territories.

Germans, Spaniards and Scandinavians were also quite active.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church, through its representative in Russia, Joseph Baronas, provide child-adoption services in St. Petersburg. Moreover, many foreign diplomats, including consuls, were frequently involved in child adoption. At the same time, representatives of firms providing child-adoption services always tried to compromise each other in various Russian government agencies in order to weaken competitors' positions.

An orphan is a real gold mine for a bureaucrat

Russian bureaucrats whom foreign families turn to have long since become linked by common commercial interests. These interests stretch from trivial bribe-taking to trips abroad in order to ‘study the living conditions of an orphan' or ‘exchange experience.' Channeling humanitarian aid to ‘friendly institutions' is another was to improve relations and ‘oil the child-adoption machine.' In Petrozavodsk, for instance, Italians paid in medicine for each adopted child. A thousand-dollars worth of medicine was provided for each adopted child there. The director of the Yaroslavl Children's Home, Ms. Lokhina, repeatedly received payments from an official of the Yaroslavl Regional Department of Education.

Foreign firms involved in the child-adoption business, especially those whose transactions are unlawful, have large numbers of intermediaries working for them. These intermediaries are mostly officials responsible for Children's Homes, but there are others, too. There are also journalists, deputies, small businessmen and even trivial crooks among them. For a fee, intermediaries compile data bases about children that can be adopted and persuade officials that make adoption decisions.

There are even cooperatives of such intermediaries in Russia.

Russia's Ministry of Education has repeatedly tried to control the adoption process. Its efforts, however, were futile. Here is an extract from a document prepared by the Ministry of Health Protection which is responsible for Russia's Children's Homes and maternity hospitals:

Our check has revealed a number of violations. Newborns are incorrectly registered in maternity hospitals and parentless children are adopted without drawing up the necessary legal documents.' "How is it possible? Take Nizhni Novgorod, for example. Healthy children were transferred to a regional hospital. This hospital was open to all intermediaries of Western firms involved in the child-adoption business. The intermediaries had access to all documents and case records in the hospital.

"Loopholes in the legislation

A law banning child-adoption firms was passed in Russia last year. Foreign families wishing to adopt a Russian child must have guarantors in Russia. Moreover, since the fall of 1996, adoption decision can only be made by courts.

Though it seems that all ‘i's' are now dotted, it is not so. Former intermediaries are now acting as guarantors. And they have the same clients abroad.

According to Russia's legislation, ‘parents for a parentless child must be first looked for in Russia. For the first three months they must be looked for in the place where the child was born. For the next three months they must be looked for in other Russian cities. If no one is found, the child can be given to a foreign family.' If everything were done in accordance with Russia's legislation, all parentless children could find new families in Russia because demand for them is high in Russia. In practice, things are quite different. The number of parentless children leaving Russia is much greater than the number of those who stay. Moreover, those who leave are healthy children while those who stay are sick. Intermediaries (or guarantors) are now frequent guests in all children's homes in Russia. They take pictures of the children, study their case records and subject them to tomography and other expensive medical examinations.

Child adoption in St. Petersburg

"The abuses of the law related to international child adoption are easily seen in St. Petersburg. "One of the children's homes in St. Petersburg was once visited by three husky men in long coats. They showed red ID cards through the bars on the windows, told the personnel they were representatives of the city's administration and demanded to see the head physician. They said that the purpose of the visit was peaceful — child adoption.

They were not let in despite of the threats they made. The visitors at last left but promised to come back. Having recovered after the incident, the doctors called the police and a local Department for Fighting Organized Crime. The police provided guards for the Children's Home, but its employees began to notice that strange characters frequently watched and followed them on their way to work and back home. Such attention is easy to explain. the Children's Home concerned was a rare exception. Its employees preferred to give children to Russians wishing to adopt a child rather than to foreigners. This runs counter to the financial interests of those who control the child adoption business.

At approximately the same time, another character came to St. Petersburg from Italy. Al child- care institutions in the city threw open their doors to him. The quest seemed irritated because he could not find a child for the pair whose interests he represented despite the promises he had received and numerous telephone calls. This was because of the stand taken by the above children's home. Various commissions immediately began to arrive from the city's Prosecutor's Office, Administration and Health-Protection Department to check this Children's Home. Their aim was to show reluctant doctors who was running the city and to replace the Children's Home director who violated the rules of the game and told the police about a chain of strange incidents. "Now, it's time to present the ‘rules of the game.' There are many honest officials refusing to participate in the distribution of the profit in the bodies responsible for guardianship. At children's homes, however, many try to conceal information about parentless children. Some pliable officials try to conceal this information, too. They send photos of children and information about them to foreign child-adoption agencies long before the expiration of the six- month term for finding domestic adopters. The firms use this time to find clients wishing to adopt a child. Immediately after the six-month term expires, visitors from abroad arrive and the necessary documents are drawn within days. Russian families waiting for their turn to adopt a child are usually told there are no healthy children at the moment. Of course, they can adopt someone with a hare lip or heart disease, but they will still have to wait their turn.

There is a child-adoption center in St. Petersburg. It collects information about parentless children in the city. The center was established as an alternative to corrupt organizations involved in the child-adoption process. the people behind the establishment, however, were soon ousted and the replaced by the same corrupt officials. The result of their activities is as follows: 1,063 parentless children were adopted by foreign families and taken abroad from St. Petersburg during the last three years and only 624 children were adopted by Russian families during the same span of time.

Documents signed by the Child-Adoption Center's director, Ms. Bogoslavskaya, contain the following paragraph worth citing: ‘Payment for the adoption of a child is not collected before an adoption decision is made.'

This payment is U.S. $1,000 in case per adopted child. This amount is usually divided between the head doctor and the director of a children's home. How much money intermediaries in the Child-Adoption Center and foreign intermediaries receive is difficult to find out. The child- adoption boom is now visible in practically every children's home in St. Petersburg. It is clearly delineated which intermediary from which country does business with a particular children's home. For instance, Children's Home No. 3 provides children to Germans and Swedes, Children's Home No. 7 provides children to other Scandinavians, while Children's Homes No. 10 and 12 provide children to Americans. It is the foreigners themselves, including consulates' employees, who notify children's homes that they have been appointed to provide parentless children for new parents in their countries.

Things of no less interest are now taking place in many maternity hospitals. Some of them maintain relations with businesses that find women who agree to be paid for giving birth to children that will later be adopted abroad. Some women can come to such hospitals and give birth to an unwanted child — for sale, so to say. Some of them even travel abroad to give birth to a child for adoption. The most frequent crime, however, is the concealment of unwanted children whose birth is not registered at all. Sometimes mothers are told that their children have died or are fatally ill. Such mothers are frequently persuaded to reject their children officially.

1997 Sep