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The First Victim Of Moscow's Adoption Ban? Disabled Russian Orphans

Would-be parents in the US are more likely than any other nationality to adopt children with disabilities. The issue is heating up again after the death of a Russian boy in Texas.

A Russian orphanage
A Russian orphanage
Victor Khamraev

MOSCOW - The law that bans American citizens from adopting Russian children still has widespread public support, from both lawmakers and ordinary citizens. But it is also having very real effects on orphans in Russia, especially those with disabilities.

President Vladimir Putin recently signed an executive order to increase the amount of government assistance to parents who are raising disabled children, and also demanded that the government do more to make the adoption procedure easier for Russians who would like to adopt orphans.

The Duma, the Russian parliament, has already started considering a law that would increase the amount of money given to Russian parents who adopt either disabled children or children or who are older than seven.

These actions appear to be in direct response to concerns raised by child welfare advocates after American citizens were forbidden from adopting Russian orphans. Americans adopted far more disabled children in Russia than any other nationality, including Russians. Indeed, some say they are practically the only people who will adopt disabled children.

Still, experts say that even these new measures still fall short of what is needed to solve the problem of orphans in Russia.

Putin announced his executive order during a cabinet meeting on demographic policy. He mentioned his skepticism at some experts’ opinion that it is impossible to increase birthrates through government policy.

Instead, Putin said that thanks to his policies, the decrease in population that Russia has experienced since the 1990s has gotten substantially smaller.

“Our culture loves children, and large families are something that we value,” he said.

(LATEST UPDATE: RIA Novosti reported that a pro-Kremlin rally Saturday in Moscow was called to demand an extension of the adoption ban to all foreign nationals. This came as the Russia Foreign Ministry formally requested more information just hours after Texas officials declared "accidental" the January death of an adopted Russian boy)

Putin's executive order last month increased the amount of government assistance to unemployed parents of disabled children by 4.5 times. The law will be in effect retroactively since the beginning of 2013. Social assistance for healthy children will also be increased.

Given the recent controversy in Russia and abroad concerning the new ban on adoptions by American parents, an important part of Putin’s new family policy includes making it much easier for Russian parents to adopt, and to substantially increase the one-time payment given to adoptive parents of disabled children and children who are school-age or older.

Just one link

A proposal was introduced into the Duma the same day as Putin’s speech that would do just that. According to government statistics, in 2011 Russian citizens adopted 7434 children, but only 38 of those were disabled and only 466 were older than seven.

The increase in assistance only applies to adoptive, not foster, parents, because the government feels that adoption is the priority. The law under consideration by the Duma would also soften the requirements for potential adoptive parents, aimed at increasing the pool of prospective parents. For example, if the proposal is approved, the law regarding unmarried parents would be softened. As it stands, an unmarried parent is forbidden from adopting a child who is more than 16 years younger than him or her. Under the proposed law, that condition would be removed.

Perhaps more importantly, the government has decided to reduce the amount of bureaucratic red tape that adoptive parents have to deal with. The bill seems likely to pass, since all of the political parties in the Duma said that they would support any steps to make life easier for orphans.

Still, many people, including some members of the Duma, said that the proposed law does not do enough. “Financial stimulus is only one link in the chain in the fight against abandoned children,” said Evgeni Gontmakher. “It is an important factor, but not a deciding factor, since a lot depends on society’s values.”

In Gontmakher’s view, too many Russians practically consider the disabled as "non-people." Until that changes, he said, it is not a good idea to forbid adoptions by citizens of a country that values empathy and welcomes disabled people.

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