239316059_82427083a3_zIt all sounds depressingly like a children’s game of tit for tat.

Tit: The US Congress passed a bill which was signed into law last week that imposed sanctions on Russia for human rights violations. The law is the Magnitsky Act, named after the Russian whistle-blowing attorney who uncovered massive governmental fraud and died in prison of suspected abuse.  Specifically the Magnitsky Act imposed travel restrictions and financial sanctions on an unreleased list of Russians suspected to be involved with Magnitsky’s death.

Tat: In what appears to be retaliation for the Magnitsky Act, the Russian Parliament introduced and approved a bill imposing similar restrictions on an unspecified list of US officials. All’s fair in love and war and politics, I suppose, but now Russia is threatening to broaden the bill to include American adoptive parents accused of abusing their children adopted from Russia and the US judges who imposed what the Russians believe to be lenient sentences. In addition, and here’s where it gets “interesting”, the new proposal would ban adoption of Russian children by Americans. Yes, you are correct that the new bilateral adoption treaty between the US and Russia just went into effect; and yes, you would be further correct that this proposal, if enacted, would obliterate that treaty. The bill will receive a second reading this week, and a third reading is planned for later this month, after which it would pass to the upper Parliamentary House.

Double tat: The Russian bill is unofficially named after Dima Yakovlev, the toddler adopted from Russia who died of heat stroke in 2008 after his father left him in a car. The father’s acquittal on involuntary manslaughter charges sparked outrage in Russia.

That’s the problem with tit for tat games—they always escalate. With kids it starts with “you can’t stand next to me in line” and escalates to “you’re not invited to my birthday party” (the 8 year old girl equivalent of the death penalty). With governments the stakes are much higher and the escalation more dangerous.

Adoptions have been controversial in Russia for some time. It is understandable. No country wants to think that it can’t take care of their own. In 2006 I wrote an article for the Christian Science Monitor about US children, primarily African American children, being placed abroad for adoption. The reaction from many was outrage and horror. People Magazine picked up the story and caused a further stir. I get it.

I don’t know enough about the backstory to the Magnitsky Act to have an opinion, but I can at least understand why Russia is upset. Nobody likes a hand-slapping. As President Vladimir Putin’s foreign policy adviser Yuri Ushakov said “What did the Americans hope for — did they hope we would just swallow [the Magnitsky Act] ? It causes indignation.”

But my understanding stops when some Russian politician tries to tie adoption into this retaliation. I’m inclined to agree with State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell: “I think it stretches the imagination to see an equal and reciprocal situation here.”

Whether Russian like it or not or admits it or not, they have a problem finding homes for children in state care. Russia also has a problem with the quality of care it is able to provide for these children and a higher than average incidence of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, which makes exposed children much harder to parent. Stopping international adoptions to the US doesn’t do squat to help these problems. It can only serve to make them worse.

At least some in Russia agree. “The logic is to be ‘an eye for an eye,’ but the logic is incorrect because it could harm our children who cannot find adopters in Russia,” Education and Science Minister Dmitry Livanov commented on Twitter. The Russian Foreign Minister has stated today that he is not in favor of banning adoptions to the US, which is good news indeed, but the tendency to use adoption as a political football regardless whether they will actually be banned may scare adoptive parents away from considering Russian adoption. The end result is not good for the thousands of Russian children growing up in state care.

The National Council on Adoption has asked adoptive parents to take the following actions:

How You Can Help
Please let your Member of Congress and President Obama know that they need to fix the problem that the Magnitsky Act has caused — as it is only going to hurt children, leaving more kids to grow up in Russian orphanages without the care and support of a loving parent. Please act NOW. The urgent timeline and the holiday season make it more important than ever that you voice your concerns immediately.

As families and children who have been adopted we also challenge President Putin to invest more in helping institutionalized Russian children move into Russian families — so that Russia can ultimately care for and support all of its children in loving Russian families.

1. Contact your U.S. Representatives and Senators and ask them to stop this from happening.

2. Contact President Obama.  Below is a draft for you to use as a template.  Simply cut and paste the following text (be sure to personalize the letter at the bold and italicized points):

Dear President/ Senator/Representative ____________ ________:

I am writing to alert you to an urgent concern regarding adoption. Congress recently passed the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act and President Obama signing into law on December 14, 2012.

In response, Russia’s legislature, is considering legislation this week that is being referred to as the Dima Yakovlev Law, named after a Russian-born child who died in the care of his adoptive parents. This law would ban from visiting Russia anyone involved in the case of Dima Yakovlev or other Russian born adopted children who died in the United States. What is of most urgent concern is that a recent amendment to this law would also end Intercountry Adoption between Russian and the United States. I believe it is absolutely important to protect the rights of every child and there should be a measured response to the death of each of these children. We mourn the loss of these Russian-born children with the Russians as they were also dear to us as American children. However, it is important to note that these children are a tiny minority. Many thousands of Russian born children have been adopted and thrived in the love and care of their American families. If intercountry adoption between Russia and the United States were to close, many thousands of children would likely languish in orphanages instead of finding their way to safe, loving, permanent families in the United States.

Now, let me tell you our story, [tell them how adoption has impacted your family, what outcomes may have been if your child could not have been adopted]. If intercountry adoption between Russia and the United States closes, other children like [your child’s name] will not be able to find their way to the many U.S. families willing and waiting to call them their own.

Please ask President Obama to contact President Putin of Russia and ask him not to allow this amendment to become part of Russian law. U.S. diplomacy at this time is essential to save the lives of many young Russians waiting for a family of their own.


[Your Name]

3. Ask your children adopted from Russia to consider writing a similar letter to his/her Representatives, Senators, and President Obama using the sample below:

Dear PresidentSenator/Representative NAME:

I learned about the Dima Act in Russia. I was sad to hear that if it passes it will end intercountry adoption.

I came to America from Russia with my parents, [PARENTS NAMES] in [MONTH] of [YEAR]. I now live with my family in [TOWN, STATE] and go to [SCHOOL NAME]. I love my family and am so glad I came to them through adoption. There are lots of children who still live in orphanages in Russia who want a family. I hope they will have a chance to find a good family like mine.

Please speak to your friends in Russia, like President Putin and other leaders, and ask them to give other kids like me, who are still in orphanages, a chance to have a family like me.

Thank you,



Image credit: sheilaz413