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Russia Suspends Adoptions by Foreigners

November 19, 1994|SONNI EFRON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MOSCOW — Russia will suspend adoptions by foreign citizens starting Dec. 1 for an indefinite period to resolve allegations of baby-selling and other abuses, officials said Friday.

"There are hundreds of swindlers representing private companies and agencies who are scouring Russia in search of children. Who knows what they are doing here?" asked Alexander N. Fedoseyev, head of the department of the Russian Education Ministry that supervises adoptions. "The process has acquired a really unregulated and uncontrolled nature in Russia."

Fedoseyev and other officials said adoption will be suspended for a "stock-taking" to set up a tracking system for Russia's estimated 100,000 orphans and make sure Russian law is applied.

The move will be a blow to about 1,000 American families who have submitted applications to the U.S. Embassy in Moscow in hopes of finding children to adopt here. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia has become an adoption mecca--now more popular even than South Korea--and Americans adopt more Russian children than do any other foreigners.

During the last 12 months, Americans have adopted 1,779 children from the former Soviet Union, a U.S. Embassy official said. Between eight and 20 new applications arrive every day.

The embassy will be writing to those would-be parents to warn that those who do not receive permission to adopt by Dec. 1 should not waste time traveling to Russia.

U.S. officials said they expect the ban to last at least several months, possibly much longer. Paperwork already submitted to the Moscow embassy will be kept on file in hopes the moratorium proves temporary. The State Department also released a telephone number for U.S. citizens seeking more information about the status of Russian adoptions: (202) 647-3445, during regular office hours.

Ukraine has also suspended foreign adoptions, although it is expected to enact a new adoption law and lift its moratorium within several months. Belarus lifted its adoption ban in January, the U.S. Embassy official said, adding, however: "I haven't seen a single child from Belarus since then, maybe one."

However, adoptions from other former Soviet republics may still be possible. Last year, Americans adopted "a handful" of children from Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Georgia, according to the embassy.

What worries U.S. officials more than the Russian adoption moratorium is a bill now making its way through Parliament that would outlaw adoption brokers--even nonprofit agencies--and impose Draconian penalties on anyone attempting to profit from adoptions.

Under the draft law now in the Duma, or lower house of Parliament, no commissions or other payment would be allowed during adoptions, including fees for documents. Anyone convicted of the illegal export of minors abroad could face up to 15 years' imprisonment and confiscation of all property.

In practice, adoption would be all but impossible for most Americans without an agency to help arrange travel to Russia, an escort for the trek from orphanage to orphanage, translation services and the myriad documents and procedures required for a legal Russian adoption.

Though outlawing agencies would probably eliminate any profiteering, the U.S. official warned that "it would make it very difficult for foreigners to find a child."

The new law would give Russian families first priority in adopting children. Children who have not been adopted by Russians after six months (three months if the child is younger than 3) would then be eligible for adoption by foreigners.

Current Russian policy is that adoption by foreigners is permitted only when deemed in the best medical interests of the child. In principle, this means that only children with health problems--or "undesirables," such as children of alcoholics--are available to foreigners.

However, the policy seemed to be easing, in practice, as Russia's economic and social troubles have swelled the population of children in underfunded orphanages.

Many Russian children's advocates and orphanage officials are anxious to see children settled with any family--even a foreign one--that can provide them a good home. However, officials are also frequently accused of falsifying medical certificates to facilitate "export" of healthy children, allegedly in exchange for bribes.

The new draft law makes no mention of the child's health. It would thus make it possible for foreigners to adopt a healthy child once the waiting period ends.

Permission from the local authorities in the child's hometown would still be required, and a court could overrule any adoption it believed was not in the best interest of the child.

Despite news reports that black-market adoption agencies are flourishing in Russia along with legal ones, charging foreigners up to $20,000 for a young, white child, Fedoseyev said he was not aware of any cases of baby-selling or any other abuses.

However, media and the Russian prosecutor's office were concerned that Education Ministry officials "were sort of selling kids abroad for mercenary motives, and were highly interested in preserving chaos in the sphere of adoptions," Fedoseyev said. "We have to sort things out within our own agency. Then, I am sure, the situation will improve and adoptions will be resumed."

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