Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Playing Games with Children’s Lives

Posted by Dawn - December 18th, 2012

It all sounds depressingly like a children’s game of tit for tat.

Tit: The US Congress passed a bill which was signed into law last week that imposed sanctions on Russia for human rights violations. The law is the Magnitsky Act, named after the Russian whistle-blowing attorney who uncovered massive governmental fraud and died in prison of suspected abuse.  Specifically the Magnitsky Act imposed travel restrictions and financial sanctions on an unreleased list of Russians suspected to be involved with Magnitsky’s death.

Tat: In what appears to be retaliation for the Magnitsky Act, the Russian Parliament introduced and approved a bill imposing similar restrictions on an unspecified list of US officials. All’s fair in love and war and politics, I suppose, but now Russia is threatening to broaden the bill to include American adoptive parents accused of abusing their children adopted from Russia and the US judges who imposed what the Russians believe to be lenient sentences. In addition, and here’s where it gets “interesting”, the new proposal would ban adoption of Russian children by Americans. Yes, you are correct that the new bilateral adoption treaty between the US and Russia just went into effect; and yes, you would be further correct that this proposal, if enacted, would obliterate that treaty. The bill will receive a second reading this week, and a third reading is planned for later this month, after which it would pass to the upper Parliamentary House.

Double tat: The Russian bill is unofficially named after Dima Yakovlev, the toddler adopted from Russia who died of heat stroke in 2008 after his father left him in a car. The father’s acquittal on involuntary manslaughter charges sparked outrage in Russia.

That’s the problem with tit for tat games—they always escalate. With kids it starts with “you can’t stand next to me in line” and escalates to “you’re not invited to my birthday party” (the 8 year old girl equivalent of the death penalty). With governments the stakes are much higher and the escalation more dangerous.
Adoptions have been controversial in Russia for some time. It is understandable. No country wants to think that it can’t take care of their own. In 2006 I wrote an article for the Christian Science Monitor about US children, primarily African American children, being placed abroad for adoption. The reaction from many was outrage and horror. People Magazine picked up the story and caused a further stir. I get it.

I don’t know enough about the backstory to the Magnitsky Act to have an opinion, but I can at least understand why Russia is upset. Nobody likes a hand-slapping. As President Vladimir Putin’s foreign policy adviser Yuri Ushakov said “What did the Americans hope for — did they hope we would just swallow [the Magnitsky Act] ? It causes indignation.”

But my understanding stops when some Russian politician tries to tie adoption into this retaliation. I’m inclined to agree with State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell: “I think it stretches the imagination to see an equal and reciprocal situation here.”

Whether Russian like it or not or admits it or not, they have a problem finding homes for children in state care. Russia also has a problem with the quality of care it is able to provide for these children and a higher than average incidence of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, which makes exposed children much harder to parent. Stopping international adoptions to the US doesn’t do squat to help these problems. It can only serve to make them worse.

At least some in Russia agree. “The logic is to be ‘an eye for an eye,’ but the logic is incorrect because it could harm our children who cannot find adopters in Russia,” Education and Science Minister Dmitry Livanov commented on Twitter. The Russian Foreign Minister has stated today that he is not in favor of banning adoptions to the US, which is good news indeed, but the tendency to use adoption as a political football regardless whether they will actually be banned may scare adoptive parents away from considering Russian adoption. The end result is not good for the thousands of Russian children growing up in state care.

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