It looks like Russian president Vladimir Putin is likely to sign a bill known as the Dima Yakovlev law that would prohibit U.S. citizens from adopting Russian children.
Putin suggested Thursday that he saw no reason not to sign the bill. It cleared the Russian parliament and was named for an adopted Russian toddler who died in 2008 after his American adoptive father left him locked in an overheated car. Despite its name, many observers regard the measure as a punitive response to a new U.S. law.
The U.S. measure President Obama signed earlier this month deals with U.S. trade relations with Russia and lifts a Cold War-era restriction on trade. There's a sticking point, though, in a provision of the bill that the Russian government has objected to, referred to as the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012.
Named for a Russian attorney who was beaten to death in prison in 2009 after he'd battled corruption, the bill imposes sanctions on and bars U.S. entry to "persons responsible for the detention, abuse, and death of Sergei Magnitsky, the conspiracy to defraud the Russian Federation of taxes on certain corporate profits, and other gross violations of human rights."
If Putin signs it, the adoption measure could have a big effect on transnational adoptions. Russia is one of the top countries from which Americans adopt, in part because it's allowed them to adopt white European children with relative ease.
Russian children must be defined as orphans in order to qualify for adoption, but the time if takes for a Russian child to be released for international adoption is usually eight months, according to the U.S. State Department.
A few facts about Russian adoptions and the measure that Putin may sign:
- Adoptions from Russia reached a high in 2004. Americans adopted 5,862 children that year, and the numbers have dropped off since. Still, close to 1,000 Russian children were adopted to the U.S. last year, says an annual State Department tally.
- A Reuters report says Russia considers more than 650,000 children orphans, although "some were rejected by their parents or taken from dysfunctional homes." About 110,000 - among them, children with disabilities and other health problems - lived in state institutions in 2011.
- Voice of Russia and several U.S. outlets have reported that the most immediate effect if Putin signs the measure would be the cancellation of 46 adoptions in progress. Those children, in line for adoption into U.S. families, would remain in Russia. As many as 1,500 other adoptions in the earlier stages would also be affected.
- Russian authorities have cited 19 deaths of Russian adoptees in the U.S., although opponents of the law say orphans in Russia also die from neglect and abuse. Stories like the one involving Dima Yakolev, the toddler who died in 2008 - or like that of a Tennessee woman who put her 7-year-old adopted son on a plane back to Russia alone in 2010 , saying he had emotional problems - have fueled support for the bill in Russia.
There's still no word as to whether there will be a way to grandfather in Russian adoptions that are already in progress, said Lori Weiner, executive director of Adoption Options, Inc., a San Diego agency that specializes in international adoptions and has placed hundreds of Russian children in U.S. homes. "We just really hope that it is a political move, and that it is not going to move forward," she said.
Expect an expert Q&A tomorrow on the Russian measure and how it may affect the hopes of adoptive parents.