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.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

Ecological Angst In India, A Mining Dumpsite As Neighbor

Local villagers in western India have been forced to live with a mining waste site on the edge of town. What happens when you wake up one day and the giant mound of industrial waste has imploded?

The mining dumpsite is situated just outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat

Sukanya Shantha

BADI — Last week, when the men and women from the Bharwad community in this small village in western India stepped out for their daily work to herd livestock, they were greeted with a strange sight.

The 20-meter-high small hill that had formed at the open-cast mining dumpsite had suddenly sunk. Unsure of the reason behind the sudden caving-in, they immediately informed other villagers. In no time, word had traveled far, even drawing the attention of environment specialists and activists from outside town.

This mining dumpsite situated less than 500 meters outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat has been a matter of serious concern ever since the Gujarat Power Corporation Limited began lignite mining work here in early 2017. The power plant is run by the Power Gujarat State Electricity Corporation Limited, which was previously known as the Bhavnagar Energy Company Ltd.

Vasudev Gohil, a 43-year-old resident of Badi village says that though the dumping site is technically situated outside the village, locals must pass the area on a daily basis.

"We are constantly on tenterhooks and looking for danger signs," he says. Indeed, their state of alert is how the sudden change in the shape of the dumpsite was noticed in the first place.

Can you trust environmental officials?

For someone visiting the place for the first time, the changes may not stand out. "But we have lived all our lives here, we know every little detail of this village. And when a 150-meter-long stretch cave-in by over 25-30 feet, the change can't be overlooked," Gohil adds.

This is not the first time that the dumpsite has worried local residents. Last November, a large part of the flattened part of the dumpsite had developed deep cracks and several flat areas had suddenly got elevated. While the officials had attributed this significant elevation to the high pressure of water in the upper strata of soil in the region, environment experts had pointed to seismic activities. The change is evident even today, nearly a year since it happened.

It could have sunk because of the rain.

After the recent incident, when the villagers raised an alarm and sent a written complaint to the regional Gujarat Pollution Control Board, an official visit to the site was arranged, along with the district administration and the mining department.

The regional pollution board officer Bhavnagar, A.G. Oza, insists the changes "aren't worrisome" and attributes it to the weather.

"The area received heavy rain this time. It is possible that the soil could have sunk in because of the rain," he tells The Wire. The Board, he says, along with the mining department, is now trying to assess if the caving-in had any impact on the ground surface.

"We visited the site as soon as a complaint was made. Samples have already been sent to the laboratory and we will have a clear idea only once the reports are made available," Oza adds.

Women from the Surkha village have to travel several kilometers to find potable water

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

A questionable claim

That the dumpsite had sunk in was noticeable for at least three days between October 1 and 3, but Rohit Prajapati of an environmental watchdog group Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, noted that it was not the first time.

"This is the third time in four years that something so strange is happening. It is a disaster in the making and the authorities ought to examine the root cause of the problem," Prajapati says, adding that the department has repeatedly failed to properly address the issue.

He also contests the GPCB's claim that excess rain could lead to something so drastic. "Then why was similar impact not seen on other dumping sites in the region? One cannot arrive at conclusions for geological changes without a deeper study of them," he says. "It can have deadly implications."

Living in pollution

The villagers have also accused the GPCB of overlooking their complaint of water pollution which has rendered a large part of the land, most importantly, the gauchar or grazing land, useless.

"In the absence of a wall or a barrier, the pollutant has freely mixed with the water bodies here and has slowly started polluting both our soil and water," complains 23- year-old Nikul Kantharia.

He says ever since the mining project took off in the region, he, like most other villagers has been forced to take his livestock farther away to graze. "Nothing grows on the grazing land anymore and the grass closer to the dumpsite makes our cattle ill," Kantharia claims.

The mining work should have been stopped long ago

Prajapati and Bharat Jambucha, a well-known environmental activist and proponent of organic farming from the region, both point to blatant violations of environmental laws in the execution of mining work, with at least 12 violations cited by local officials. "But nothing happened after that. Mining work has continued without any hassles," Jambucha says. Among some glaring violations include the absence of a boundary wall around the dumping site and proper disposal of mining effluents.

The mining work has also continued without a most basic requirement – effluent treatment plant and sewage treatment plant at the mining site, Prajapati points out. "The mining work should have been stopped long ago. And the company should have been levied a heavy fine. But no such thing happened," he adds.

In some villages, the groundwater level has depleted over the past few years and villagers attribute it to the mining project. Women from Surkha village travel several kilometers outside for potable water. "This is new. Until five years ago, we had some water in the village and did not have to lug water every day," says Shilaben Kantharia.

The mine has affected the landscape around the villages

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

Resisting lignite mining

The lignite mining project has a long history of resistance. Agricultural land, along with grazing land were acquired from the cluster of 12 adjoining villages in the coastal Ghogha taluka between 1994 and 1997. The locals estimate that villagers here lost anything between 40-100% of their land to the project. "We were paid a standard Rs 40,000 per bigha," Narendra, a local photographer, says.

The money, Narendra says, felt decent in 1994 but for those who had been dependent on this land, the years to come proved very challenging. "Several villagers have now taken a small patch of land in the neighboring villages on lease and are cultivating cotton and groundnut there," Narendra says.

They were dependent on others' land for work.

Bharat Jambucha says things get further complicated for the communities which were historically landless. "Most families belonging to the Dalit or other marginalized populations in the region never owned any land. They were dependent on others' land for work. Once villagers lost their land to the project, the landless were pushed out of the village," he adds. His organization, Prakrutik Kheti Juth, has been at the forefront, fighting for the rights of the villages affected in the lignite mining project.

In 2017, when the mining project finally took off, villagers from across 12 villages protested. The demonstration was disrupted after police used force and beat many protesters. More than 350 of them were booked for rioting.

The villagers, however, did not give up. Protests and hunger strikes have continued from time to time. A few villagers even sent a letter to the President of India threatening that they would commit suicide if the government did not return their land.

"We let them have our land for over 20 years," says Gohil.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!