Should Have Been Passed Earlier

Edited by Robert O’Connor

In Dec. 2012, Moscow decided to prohibit U.S. citizens from adopting Russian orphans. The relevant law, unofficially named after a Russian boy, Dima Yakovlev, who died in America, caused heated debates in Russia. But even a year later, politicians are convinced that the ban has fully justified itself.

Federal Law “On Measures against persons involved in abuse of fundamental human rights and freedoms of Russian citizens,” also called “the Dima Yakovlev law,” was signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin on Dec. 28, 2012.

This law bans U.S. citizens involved in human rights violations and crimes against Russian citizens from entering Russia. However, the law is best known for the section banning Americans from adopting Russian orphans.

This law was created in response to a frequent number of accidents among Russian children adopted by Americans. It is also called “the Dima Yakovlev law” in the memory of a two-year-old Russian boy who died after his American foster father, Miles Harrison, left the child in a car for the entire day. A U.S. court found Mr. Harrison not guilty.

At the same time, Putin also signed a decree simplifying the adoption procedure of orphans for Russian families. “The Dima Yakovlev law” took effect on Jan. 1, 2013. Passing of the bill caused heated debates in Russia. However, even now the politicians are convinced that the ban was necessary.

Alexei Pushkov, the head of the Duma Committee on Foreign Affairs, said that “the Dima Yakovlev law” has justified itself. During a press conference he stated that the U.S. government started to take the abuse problem of adopted Russian children more seriously only because of this law. According to one of the largest news agencies in Russia, RIA Novosti, Alexei Pushkov declared that “The law allowed Russia to emphasize a very serious problem that had lacked attention from the U.S. authorities on the lives of Russian children in the U.S. before. Only after the adoption of this law, the U.S. secretary of state raised the issue in the Department, and instructed them to collect and share information with us.”

According to Russia’s Member of Parliament, the law has justified itself, despite the criticism it received from both Western countries and Russia.

Summing up the results of the law during the first year, Olga Batalina, the first deputy Chairman of the Duma Committee on Family, Women and Children Affairs and a member of the central headquarters of the Popular Front, informed the newspaper “Vzglyad” that its adoption has led to two important results. “In 2013, we have further affirmed the correctness of the ban. Unfortunately, despite all the assurances of the U.S. authorities on willingness to assist Russia in monitoring the living conditions of our children in the U.S., no significant changes have occurred,” she declared.

According to Batalina, many Russian-American consultations took place during last year, but “a new level of cooperation” in the interest of Russian children already residing in the U.S. was not reached.

At the same time, Reuters news agency revealed an unpleasant and shocking result of their investigation: a U.S.-based company that dealt in the illegal online exchange of adopted children and transferred them as a commodity. Batalina recalled that, unfortunately, 26 Russian children became victims of that company, and that some of those children were sexually assaulted.

Recall that on Dec. 5, 2013, Russia’s Investigative Committee opened a case of human trafficking in the United States after an investigation by Reuters and NBC. According to investigators, illegal exchanges were created in the U.S. on such Internet sites as Yahoo and Facebook, where illicit transactions of children adopted by U.S. citizens were conducted. According to the deputy, this clearly shows that the family system in the U.S. is far from being perfect. Russia also has a number of questions about so-called ranches where the foster parents in America take children, not caring about what will happen to them next. Even though according to the documentation sent to Russia, those children are still considered to be part of American families.

The “Dima Yakovlev law” also has also had a second significant result. It made Russian people to reconsider their attitude toward the problem of orphanhood. “In our country, this problem is quite critical. It is also as critical for many other countries, including the United States,” added Batalina. “But because of public reaction caused by the ban on adoption, this topic has become one of the key topics for all levels of government in Russia, as well as for institutions where such children are educated.”

The deputy noted that president’s decree began “systemic change in family law” to solve the problem of orphanhood. A series of measures to support the families who have expressed a willingness to adopt children and the families who have found themselves in difficult financial situations were implemented. The procedure of adoption and taking custody of children was significantly simplified, many administrative barriers were removed and financial support for families was increased.

Additionally, lawmakers changed the requirements for living conditions for children in orphanages and boarding schools. “Now, accommodations that are close to home are being created. The transition to dividing children into small groups of different ages that have the same two or three educators is also being implemented,” listed the deputy.

“The results of these changes were already partially noticeable last year. The number of orphan children decreased. On Jan. 1, 2013 the federal database had information on 118,000 orphans living in institutions. According to recent reports, the number decreased to 106,000,” she said.

Summarizing, Olga Batalina acknowledged that the scale of the problem of orphans in Russia is still very large. But the executive authorities, public organizations and deputies are working on the problem “every single day.”

A little earlier, on Dec. 19, 2013, Russian President Vladimir Putin reminded us about the reasons for the “Dima Yakovlev law.”

On a journalist’s remark that many Russian children have died in Russia as a result of “the Dima Yakovlev law,” Putin responded that many Russian children died in American foster families as well.

Pavel Astakhov, the Children’s Rights Commissioner for the President of the Russian Federation is confident that such a law should have been passed long time ago. “Measures had to be taken when a number of American foster parents did not take any responsibilities for the death of our children, explained children’s ombudsman to “Vzglyad” newspaper. “This was the case of Brian Dykstra, who was found not guilty (although initially accused of murdering 18-month-old Ilyusha Kargyntsev). We may also recall the case of the Kreyvers, who killed Vanya Skorobogatov, and finally, Michael Harrison, who was found not guilty, although he left his adopted son, Dima Yakovlev, to die in the car.”

Astakhov emphasized that the statement that the adoption of Russian children by U.S. citizens saves Russian children and is critically necessary for them, is an exaggeration; the statements that masses of Russian orphans are deprived of the opportunity of adoption does not have any grounds. “U.S. citizens were not too eager to adopt Russian children anyway. In 2012, when there was no limit for adoptions by Americans, American citizens have adopted 646 children, which compared to 65,000 children placed in Russian families accounts for less than 1 percent,” stresses the ombudsman.

According to Astakhov, another myth is that Americans only adopt sick children. Based on the information from civil society activists only 10 percent of adopted children had a disability; according to the Ministry of Education, it does not exceed 5 percent.

“The number of children adopted by Russian families has been growing in the past five years. According to the Ministry of Education, the number of children adopted by Russian citizens rose by 6.7 percent in 2013 compared to the previous year,” stated the Children’s Rights Commissioner.

Astakhov concluded that with the ban of American adoption, Russia only wins, as more children are staying in Russian families. The ombudsman recognized the media frenzy created by the representatives of civil society around the topic of adoption of Russian children. But Astakhov wonders what they themselves have done to help orphan children.

“It’s time to send this energy to a peaceful path and join forces, because the government can help to put a child in an orphanage, but only society can help a child in reality,” he said.

According to the children’s ombudsman, if every blogger who wrote many critical posts this year took patronage over at least one child (not necessarily even over an orphan, but just over a child who lives next door, in a poor family with many children), the situation would have changed drastically. “But those who were shouting at meetings and were organizing campaigns against ‘the Dima Yakovlev law’ did not come to the orphanages and are only capable of shouting. And those who really work on the problem worked 10 times as hard last year,” says Astakhov.

On Dec. 3, 2013, the State Duma developed a draft law completely banning foreign adoptions of Russian children, initiated by the Members of Parliament from Kemerovo. MPs from Kemerovo pointed out that once abroad, children live in “difficult and dangerous conditions.” The State Duma supported the draft law suggested by their regional colleagues.

“Once in a foreign country, a child does not know the language, traditions or culture, he or she lacks warmth and caring. Unfortunately, Russia often cannot provide any legal assistance to children in difficult and dangerous conditions,” according to MPs from Kemerovo.

Prior to that, MPs from Kemerovo banned adoptions by foreigners in their region.

Also, MPs attached to the legislative initiative the data of All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM), according to which more and more Russian citizens are in favor of a ban on the adoption of Russian children abroad. Today, supporters of this position are almost two-thirds of respondents (64 percent; in Jan. 2013, 53 percent), the document noted.

However, on Thursday, MPs had to annul the regional law in Kemerovo at the request of prosecutors, who found it contrary to federal law.

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