by Becca McBride
In the final days of 2012, Russian president Vladimir Putin signed into law an initiative that prevents US citizens from adopting Russian children. This new law, which went into effect on January 1 of this year, also calls for the termination of the bilateral treaty on adoption that had just entered into force in November 2012. The treaty was the product of more than a year of negotiations between the US State Department and the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and imposed greater restrictions on adoption agencies operating within Russia as well as US citizens adopting Russian children. The bilateral treaty’s termination clause requires that it remain in effect until January 1, 2014. The new law could potentially halt hundreds of in-process adoptions of Russian children by US citizens. US citizens adopting Russian children are usually required to make at least three trips to Russia before they can return to the United States with the adopted Russian child. It is currently unclear whether the Russian government will halt all adoptions at all stages of the process, or if they will allow families who have already passed their court date, usually during the second required trip, to complete the process of adopting Russian children.
Though the new law is heartbreaking for the families and children in the middle of the adoption process, from a political perspective it is not surprising. Russian politicians and the Russian public have conveyed discomfort with intercountry adoption policies since Russia started allowing foreigners to adopt children in the early 1990s. This discomfort has increased with several high-profile instances of adopted Russian children suffering abuse or rejection by their US adoptive parents. Over the past two decades, the Russian government has frequently imposed stricter requirements on Russian adoptions and reduced the number of children available for adoption by foreign parents. Most recently, the Russian government indicated that only states willing to negotiate bilateral adoption treaties with Russia would be allowed to adopt Russian children. This requirement is unique to Russia and more restrictive than most countries that allow foreigners to adopt children.
These crackdowns have followed the greater trend within Russia of restricting foreign interference, particularly US interference, in social welfare issues. In 2006, President Putin signed into law strict regulations on Russian and foreign NGOs, which include organizations that facilitate foreign adoptions of Russian children. This law gave the Russian government control over the process of NGO registration without the requirement of written justification for denial of registration. Many of the organizations denied registration were unable to appeal the decisions because the basis for the denial was unclear and thus difficult to contest. The law also required that the founder of any NGO operating within Russia be legally domiciled in Russia. Finally, the law required that Russian Government officials be allowed to attend any meeting of the NGO, including budgetary, planning, and strategy meetings. These restrictions made it difficult for NGOs to act independently of Russian government supervision and consent.
The status of adoptions already in process remains unclear for the remaining twelve months until the bilateral treaty between the United States and Russia is officially terminated. The Russian government has not provided details on how, or a timeline on when, the new law will be implemented. A Kremlin spokesman claimed that adoptions that have already received a court order will be allowed to proceed. The US State Department continues to interact with the Russian government, urging that US citizens in the process of adopting Russian children be allowed to complete those adoptions. In fact, there are currently US families in Russia trying to complete the process of adopting Russian children that they have met multiple times throughout their adoptive process. But the State Department has warned that these families are experiencing unprecedented difficulties in the form of court date postponements and delays in issuing the documents needed to finalize the adoptions including adoption decrees, birth certificates, and Russian passports for the adopted children.
Despite statements from Russian officials that in-process adoptions will continue, uncertainty in the adoption bureaucracy will make it difficult to process these adoptions. First, regional officials are unclear how to proceed with adoptions already in process and the political sensitivity of the issue will make them hesitant to jeopardize their political positions in order to facilitate adoptions to US citizens. Second, even pro-adoption judges in Russia will feel increasing pressure to block adoptions based on technicalities in order to demonstrate their loyalty to the administration. Third, Russian facilitators of US adoptions will be increasingly pressured to cease activity unless they want to jeopardize their NGO status in Russia. These three levels of uncertainty within Russia will add to the insecurity US citizens in the process of adopting Russian children already face. These families will have to decide if they should continue to invest financially and emotionally in facilitating an adoption that could ultimately be blocked for political reasons.