US and Russia Relations Affecting Adoption Laws

Dawn Davenport


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

18/12/2012 | by Dawn Davenport | Categories: Adoption, Adoption Blog, Blog | 18 Comments

18 Responses to US and Russia Relations Affecting Adoption Laws

  1. Avatar June Lewis, LCSW says:

    I Don’t know if this is the tit or the tat but it seems strange to me that shortly after Russia and the US signed an adoption agreement Senator John Kerry introduced S.3331-The Intercountry Adoption Universal Accrediation Act of 2012 which would expand the Hague accreditation standards to all international adoptions. Russia has declined to become party to the Hague Convention and in fact Susan Jacobs said the majority of international adoptions are from non-convention countries. Needless to say it is all about the $$$ and not about the kids; “CBO further estimates that under the bill the number of adoptions from nonconvention countries would decline. With fewer people entering the United States through adoption, the demand for government programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Medicaid would be reduced.”–it goes on to say that it would increase revenues from civil penaties imposed on those who violate the regulations governing international adoptions, etc.,Initial fees for private agencies to obtain accreditation would range between $10,000 to $50,000.

  2. Terri Cb Terri Cb says:

    Bev I hope she does as well. There are other adopted children (now adults mostly) that are writing the White House and Putin. I really hope that it makes a difference………….

  3. Judy S Schwartz Judy S Schwartz says:

    heartbreaking 🙁

  4. Judy S Schwartz Judy S Schwartz says:

    I was thinking… you know how people were freaking out thinking its supposedly the end of the world today… if they pass that law in Russia to close adoptions with the US it will be certainly be the end of the world for those who have children chosen and are waiting to finalize, for the children who will never have a parent to love them… the end of the world means the end of hope for some… makes me very sad 🙁

  5. Judy S Schwartz Judy S Schwartz says:

    this truly breaks my heart….

  6. Terri Cb Terri Cb says:

    My oldest is also from Russia…………and I shudder to think of what her life with cl/cp would have been like there, just after viewing the lives of those that did not have a “deformity” or physical “disability”. She was treated wonderfully by the staff, but nothing more would have been done to help her.

  7. Judy S Schwartz Judy S Schwartz says:

    thanks Dawn 🙂

  8. Melanie Kristine Joy Seier Melanie Kristine Joy Seier says:

    I agree with you, Judy S Schwartz. Not only that, there are a lot of great parents here in the United States wanting to adopt older children who the U.S. foster care system refuses to work with. There is no reason for any child to be an orphan…not in Russia, the U.S., or any country. When a person decides they want to be a parent and is willing to fight to be one they will go across the world to make it happen…for a country to close it’s doors and say that these children don’t get homes is just plain dumb.

  9. Judy S Schwartz Judy S Schwartz says:

    My children are from Russia..I’ve worked in adoption since they joined my family and have helped hundreds of kids from orphanages and my heart aches at the thought that those who deserve a loving family may never have one because of this ridiculousness…I hope that our voices will be heard as we fight against this… if the Russians won’t adopt their own then they should not stop us from adopting the children… everyone deserves to be loved… everyone deserves a parent….everyone deserves to have family.

  10. Bev Gunn Bev Gunn says:

    My 23 yo daughter came to me the other night extremely upset over this legislation! She cried that it is not fair to the other children still in Russia for them to use the kids this way! I suggested she write a letter to Putin (in Russian) and tell him her story so they know that not every child is unloved and mistreated. I do hope she does it!!

  11. Not to continue to be the harbinger of doom here, but thought you might want to read what is currently happening in this sad situation. Today’s NYT article: Russia Moves a Step Closer to Banning Adoptions by U.S. Citizens ( and a great editorial in the NYT titled Russian Orphans as Political Pawns ( I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for wiser minds to prevail.

  12. Putin Evasive on Banning Adoptions by Americans. NYT article. Putin has a great deal of power in this situation.

  13. I kind of thought I’d have better news to report on the vote yesterday. Alas, I don’t. The Russian Parliament on Wednesday overwhelmingly voted in support of a bill that would prohibit the adoption of Russian children by American citizens, though it was unclear if President Vladimir V. Putin would allow the ban to go forward. Here’s a link to an article on this in the NYT:

  14. Judy, I’m giving you a standing ovation!

  15. the New York Times just ran a story on the situation I blogged about–Russia threatening to stop all adoptions in retaliation to a recent US law imposing human rights sanctions against those accused of abusing a man who uncovered and reported governmental fraud.

  16. Avatar Melissa Siebenthal says:

    My husband and I are in the process of adopting a little girl who has been passed over for adoption by Russian citizens because she has a chronic medical condition. Our little girl will spend her childhood in an orphanage and then be put out on the street with no medical care once she ages out, if she isn’t adopted! This proposed ban is madness and we are praying for the wisdom of the Russian officials to not approve this. These children should not be used as political pawns!

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