A protester holds a poster which reads: “Are orphans guilty of Magnitsky's death ? Stop putting shame on yourselves!” just outside the lower house of Russia’s parliament, the State Duma, early on December 21, 2012, ahead of the debate on a bill banning Americans from adopting Russian children. Photo by EVGENY FELDMAN/AFP/Getty Images
By Wendy Koch, USA TODAY
Americans hoping to give Russian orphans a home were jolted by news that Russia's legislators have voted to ban such adoptions.
very difficult," said Los Angeles resident Sharon Benamou of the
potential ban. She and her husband Yehudah flew to Russia in October to
meet the twin toddlers they're preparing to adopt. "I don't know what
their fate is," she said, her voice cracking with emotion.
Benamou, hundreds of Americans with pending adoptions are anxiously
watching to see whether Russian President Vladimir Putin signs the
legislation, approved unanimously by the country's upper house of
parliament Wednesday and by the lower house last week.
ban is part of a larger bill seen as retaliation for the Magnitsky Act,
a law President Obama signed Dec. 14 that calls for sanctions on
Russians who violate human rights. Putin has called it an "appropriate"
response to the U.S. law, but several high-ranking Russians have
"This is children becoming pawns in a diplomatic
game," said Adam Pertman, executive director of the Evan B. Donaldson
Adoption Institute. He says there's no Plan B for Russia's 700,000
orphans, adding: "The bottom-line victims are children."
political tit-for-tat is the latest in a series of disputes between the
United States and Russia over adoption. Many Russians have been outraged
by reports of Russian adoptees being hurt or killed in the U.S. The ban
was named in honor of Dima Yakovlev, a Russian toddler who died in 2008
after his adoptive U.S. father left him in a car in boiling heat for
Yet Pertman says the 19 Russian kids who have died at the
hands of their American parents are a tiny fraction of the 60,000
Russian orphans adopted since 1992, many of whom have special needs. To
provide further safeguards for Russian adoptees, the U.S. signed a
bilateral agreement with Russia that took effect last month.
is misguided to link the fate of children to unrelated political
considerations," said the State Department's Patrick Ventrell. He said
Russia should instead honor the bilateral accord, which requires that
prospective parents complete up to 80 hours of pre-adoption training and
provide post-adoption updates to Russian authorities.
don't realize how much adoptive parents go through," said Lisa Wong, an
Oakland resident who brought home a 22-month-old Russian girl just a few
days after Thanksgiving. She noted the extensive paperwork, FBI checks
and three visits to Russia.
Wong said her heart goes out to those
still waiting. Several dozen U.S. families have been matched to Russian
orphans but an estimated 1,500 are in earlier stages of the adoption
That process can cost $40,000 to $60,000, said Janice
Goldberger, executive director of Adoptions Together, an agency that
assists Russian adoptions. Russia remained the third-largest source of
foreign adoptions by U.S. citizens last year, even though the number of
these adoptions - 962 - has plummeted since its peak of 5,862 in 2004,
according to the U.S. State Department.
agencies and advocacy groups, including the National Council for
Adoption, are calling on Putin to reject the bill. On Wednesday, Russian
adoptees, led by 21-year-old Alexander D'Jamoos, delivered a petition
to the Russian Embassy in Washington, D.C.
Ann Suhs, who lives in
Johns Creek, Ga., said the 7-year-old boy she and her husband Kurt
adopted from Russia six years ago is the "love of our life." She said
they've filed all the paperwork for adopting a second child but don't
know what they'll do if Russia slams its doors on U.S. parents. "Now we
wait," Suhs said.