Entries in Adoption (17)


US Couple Finally Leaves Russia with Adopted Daughter

Courtesy Kendra Skaggs(MOSCOW) -- As she prepared for the biggest journey of her life, a 5-year-old Russian girl named Polina asked visitors, "Are you coming to America with me?"

She had only the slightest idea that her adoption by an American couple from Arkansas barely survived Russia's ban on adoptions to the United States.

Polina is one of the final adoptions allowed to proceed.  Russia banned adoptions to the United States starting Jan. 1, but allowed about 50 adoptions that had already received court approval to proceed.  Polina's case received court approval on Dec. 24, sneaking in just under the wire.

Hundreds of other cases, even ones where the parents had met the child, remain frozen.  Some of those prospective parents have decided to challenge the ban in the European Court of Human Rights.

But whether Polina would be allowed to travel became clear only in recent weeks.  After the ban was announced, various Russian officials issued contradictory statements about how the ban would be enforced.  Some officials suggested she might be still be allowed to travel.  Others said definitively not.

Finally, Kendra and Jason Skaggs traveled to Moscow in late January, nearly certain they would be able to bring their adopted daughter home, but girding themselves for the possibility that after the ups and downs of the previous month, something could come up at the last minute.

After a long, snowy drive to the orphanage, they were able to see Polina for the first time in over a month.

"Momma, do I get to go with you?" the girl asked immediately.  A giant smile burst on her face when she was told yes.

"It's a dream come true," Kendra said later.  "There is still an unreal element to it.  It hasn't quite hit us yet that we have her and she's ours."

"It's really a sense of relief.  We had been waiting for so long," Jason agreed.

The prospect of never seeing their adopted daughter again was agonizing, but Kendra said imagining that Polina would think they had abandoned her was worse.

"To know that she might be worrying and wondering why didn't my mommy and daddy come back and that she might be in an orphanage for the rest of her childhood and not knowing how she would do as an adult here, that was really the torture," she said.

Polina suffers from spina bifida, a birth defect that left her numb below the knees and unable to walk.  Had she remained in Russia, she would have faced an uncertain future in a country that often lacks ramps or infrastructure for the disabled.

In the United States, she'll receive several hours of physical therapy a week to strengthen her legs, something she only rarely received in Russia.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Russia Allows Final Child Adoptions to Leave for US

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(MOSCOW) -- After weeks of uncertainty and diplomatic wrangling, Russian authorities have begun to allow a final few adoptions to the United States to proceed, squeaking in under the wire despite Russia’s new ban on adoptions to the United States.

A handful of Russian orphans were able to leave the country starting last Thursday.  U.S. officials said they expect nearly two dozen more to leave in the coming days, and they hope more will soon follow.

They are among 52 adoptions that were in legal limbo after Russia’s ban on adoptions by Americans went into effect on Jan. 1.  The measure was part of Russia’s retaliation for a set of human rights sanctions President Obama signed into law last month.

After back-and-forth statements from various Russian officials about whether those cases would be subject to the ban or not, senior Russian officials said they would allow them to proceed.  They had received court approval before the ban went into effect.

Still, it was not so easy.  After the ban was announced, adopters Robert and Kim Summers spent hours on the phone, calling their adoption agency, members of Congress and anyone else they thought could help.

“We decided we were going to bring this baby home, no matter what it took,” Robert said of the 22-month-old boy they were looking to adopt.

Finally, the couple decided to fly to Russia anyway, hoping they would be allowed to bring the boy, who they have renamed Preston, home.  When they took off, they had no idea if the boy would be with them on the return flight.

They traveled to Preston’s orphanage in Kaluga, a few hours south of Moscow.  They had not seen him since Dec. 12, but after he ran to greet them, they were reassured they were doing the right thing.

They were supposed to bring Preston home on Jan. 11, but the date came and went.  A judge gave final approval, but officials in the passport office were reluctant to issue travel documents because they did not know if the adoption ban applied in this case.

After days of pleading, they finally received the passport.  On Sunday, they boarded a plane to New York.  Preston was so excited he did not sleep on the entire ten-hour flight.

The family’s difficulties were not unique.  Families and U.S. officials said that lower-level Russian bureaucrats have been reluctant to process travel documents amid the confusion over what was banned and what was not.  

Last week, Russia’s children’s ombudsman, Pavel Astakhav, who supports the ban, tried to clear up the confusion and promised to intervene personally in any cases that were blocked.

Still, there are some cases that remain stuck.  According to families and officials, Russian judges and officials have refused to provide travel documents despite the clearer guidance from Moscow.  U.S. officials said the problem is appearing only in certain regions, but declined to identify which ones.

But even though they say they are hopeful that most, if not all, of the 52 cases will proceed, U.S. officials have turned their attention to the potentially hundreds of other adoptions that remain more precarious.  In those cases, families may have even visited a child multiple times, but did not receive court approval prior to the Jan. 1 cutoff.

U.S. officials say they are urging the Russians to interpret their exceptions to the ban -- that they will allow adoptions in process to proceed -- to include such cases.

So far Russian officials have said they will honor only those cases already approved by a judge.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Blind Teen Stands Up to Putin on Adoption Ban

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(MOSCOW) — A blind Russian teenager’s withering, at times sarcastic, criticism of the country’s new ban on adoptions to the United States has garnered a lot of attention in Russian media, and even from the Kremlin.

In a Jan. 6 blog post, addressed to President Vladimir Putin, Natasha Pisarenko asked what will be done for disabled Russian children now that they cannot be adopted by Americans. She slammed the dismal state of Russia’s orphanages and medical care, using her own life as an example.

Pisarenko was born blind, she explains, and even though her father recognized it almost instantly it took doctors three months to identify it, and it took German doctors to make a proper diagnosis. Now she plans to have surgery in the United States that could restore her sight.

In perhaps a sign of how sensitive the Kremlin is to the outrage surrounding the adoption ban, Putin’s spokesman Dmitri Peskov said, “Of course we will pay attention to such a statement. This girl is well known to us. She’s known by the regional authorities and by the health ministry.”

The adoption ban was a late amendment to a bill retaliating for America passing the so-called Magnitsky Act, a set of human rights sanctions that President Obama signed into law in December. The U.S. law was named after an anti-corruption lawyer who died in prison after he uncovered evidence of massive fraud. The act freezes the assets and visas of Russian officials accused of human rights abuse.

Russia is one of the most popular countries for Americans seeking to adopt overseas. Americans have adopted over 60,000 Russian children since the collapse of the Soviet Union, according to the State Department, but Russian officials have pointed to the cases of 19 Russian children who died after being adopted by Americans.

When the ban went into effect on Jan. 1, it left 52 orphans in legal limbo. Their adoptions to the United States had been approved by a court, but they had not yet received papers to leave the country. Russian officials have said some of them will still be allowed to leave, but have not said which ones or how many.

A majority of Russians supported the ban in a December poll by the Public Opinion Foundation, but thousands took to the streets of Moscow on Sunday to protest the measure. They chanted “Hands off our children” and hoisted signs with the photos of lawmakers who voted for the ban with “Shame” written across their faces.

Russia’s state-owned news channels, however, dismissed the large protest, accusing participants of promoting the sale of children abroad. One presenter said children were many times more likely to be killed in the United States than in Russia.

On Monday a petition with over 100,000 signatures asking lawmakers to overturn the ban was dismissed by a committee in the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, according to RIA Novosti.

Deputy Prime Minister Olga Golodents said on Monday that approximately 128,000 of Russia’s estimated 650,000 orphans were waiting for adoption, yet only 18,000 Russian families had applied to adopt children.

Last week, Maxim Kargopoltsev, a 14-year-old orphan due to be adopted by an American couple he had known for years, made headlines when he was reported to have penned a letter to Putin and to lawmakers asking for the ban to be overturned. Later reports, quoting his orphanage director, said there was no letter.

The next day, however, the regional governor visited Maxim and vowed to look after him. He also took him to buy the cellphone of his choice. The boy was quoted later saying he still hoped to be adopted by the Americans.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Limits of Russia Adoption Ban Unclear, Causing Anxiety for US Families

ALEXEY DRUZHININ/AFP/Getty Images(MOSCOW) -- Overlapping and often contradictory statements from various Russian officials over the past week have failed to provide much clarity about how Russia plans to implement its new ban on adoptions to the United States.

Instead the confusion has frustrated American families anxious to know if any final adoptions will be allowed to proceed. It has also left the impression that top Russian officials disagree on how to enforce a controversial ban that was rushed into law.

Specifically, the latest statements have left unclear the fate of 52 Russian orphans whose adoptions remain in legal purgatory.

Their cases were nearly complete when the ban went into effect on Jan. 1, but officials have yet to define where they will draw the line on adoptions, particularly 46 of them that had received court approval but were in the midst of a 30-day waiting period before the children would be allowed to leave the country.

On Wednesday, Russia’s Children’s Rights ombudsman Pavel Astakhav said all 52 will remain in Russia, but the next day Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov said some of them would be allowed to leave the country, without saying how many or which ones.

On Friday, however, Astakhav changed his tune. He told the Interfax news agency that “children for whom there were court rulings will leave.”

Peskov made similar marks in an interview with a Russian television station, but then made a nebulous comment again raising questions about where the line will be drawn.

“In those cases where certain legal procedures have not been completed, a full ban on adoptions by Americans becomes effective,” he said, according to Interfax.

Peskov also suggested adoption cases could be decided on a case-by-case basis, but didn’t specify what the criteria would be.    

The six cases that had completed the waiting period appear to have the best chance, but none of the statements this week clearly declares what will happen to any of the 52 children.

For American families who expected to bring a child home this month, the back and forth has exacerbated their frustration.

“We are still unclear when they refer to families who have cleared the court process,” Kendra Skaggs told ABC News. She and her husband received court approval on Dec. 24 and were scheduled to bring home 5-year-old Polina, who suffers from spina bifida, later this month.

She says Peskov’s statements have given her hope, but is unsure what to believe.

Desperate for details, many families have reached out to their adoption agencies, contacts in Russia, their local representatives, and the State Department.

On Friday, the State Department held a conference call with many of the families to explain that, despite discussions with Russian officials, they have yet to receive a definitive explanation about which adoptions will be allowed to proceed, and which children will have to remain in Russia.

According to one person on the call, officials who briefed the families also warned that even if the court order and permission to leave the country have been granted, it is unclear whether other elements of the Russian government, like passport agencies or immigration control at the airport, will be willing to allow the children to leave.

Russia’s inability to clearly define the legal limits of the ban may be a product of the rush with which it was introduced.

The ban was added in late December to a bill retaliating for a set of human rights sanctions that President Obama signed into law earlier that month. Within two weeks Russian President Vladimir Putin signed it into law.

The ban was controversial in Russia even before it was signed. Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, a longtime critic of the United States, urged lawmakers not to approve the measure. A deputy prime minister reportedly suggested the ban would violate Russia’s international treaty obligations. Even Putin was non-committal the first few times he was asked about it at an end of the year press conference.

Some prominent Russians have vocally opposed the ban, saying it plays politics with the lives of children. On Sunday, the country’s opposition plans to march in protest in central Moscow.

Many ordinary Russians have reached out to Kendra Skaggs to offer assistance. Some said they would try to check in on Polina and pass on messages. Others offered a place to stay when Kendra and her husband travel to Moscow. On Friday Skaggs said she still plans to go ahead with her travel plans.

A source of hope for the Skaggs family and many others enduring the excruciating back and forth was dashed on Friday when the Russian lawmaker who proposed an exception to the ban for adoptions of sick and disabled kids abandoned the measure due to lack of support.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Russian Opposition to Protest Ban on US Adoptions

Creatas/Thinkstock(MOSCOW) -- Not everyone in Russia agrees with the country's new ban on adoptions to the United States.

Russia's opposition is siding with the American families affected by the ban, and is planning to protest the law in Moscow. Municipal officials have approved a demonstration in the city center for up to 20,000 people on Sunday.

Late last year, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the ban into law -- part of Russia's retaliation for a set of human rights sanctions signed by President Obama in December.

Americans have adopted 60,000 Russian orphans over the past 20 years. Russian officials, however, point to the cases of 19 children who died after being adopted.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio 


State Department Responds to Russian Law Banning US Adoptions

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The State Department issued a statement on Thursday in response to the law to be signed by President Putin to ban Americans from adopting Russian children.

State Department Spokesperson Patrick Ventrell said, "We have repeatedly made clear, both in private and in public, our deep concerns about the bill passed by the Russian parliament, that if signed by President Putin, would halt intra-country adoptions between the United States and Russia.”  

Ventrell added, “The welfare of children is simply too important to tie to the political aspects of our relationship.”

The State Department reports more than 60,000 Russian children have been adopted by Americans since 1992.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Russian President to Sign Bill Banning Adoptions to US

Sasha Mordovets/Getty Images(MOSCOW) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin announced on Thursday that he will sign a bill banning adoptions to the United States.

The news comes a day after the upper house of the Russian parliament unanimously approved the ban.

“I intend to sign the law you have just mentioned as well as a presidential decree changing the procedure of helping orphaned children, children left without parental care, and especially children who are in a disadvantageous situation due to their health problems,” Putin said, according to the Russian Interfax news agency, when asked about the ban during a meeting of the Russian State Council on Thursday.

The ban was added last week to a broader bill retaliating for human rights sanctions signed by President Obama earlier this month.  Putin had previously expressed support for the broader bill, which reciprocates the sanctions.

On Thursday, Putin said that higher living standards overseas are no reason to allow children to be adopted by foreigners.

“There is one more reason of which I haven’t spoken yet, but which I would mention now.  Probably there are quite a lot of places in the world where living standards are somewhat better than we have.  And so what?  Will we send all our children there?  Perhaps we will move there ourselves?” he said.

Putin did not say when he would sign the bill into law, but if it is done immediately, it would go into effect on Jan. 1.

At stake immediately are the cases of 46 Russian children whose adoptions would be frozen if the bill becomes law, according to Russia’s children’s rights commissioner Pavel Astakhav.  He said those children would receive priority to be adopted by Russian families.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Russian Lawmakers Pass Ban on Adoptions to US

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(MOSCOW) -- The upper house of the Russian parliament unanimously approved a ban on adoptions to the United States on Wednesday.  All eyes are now on the Kremlin as the bill goes to President Vladimir Putin for his signature.

The ban was added last week to a broader bill retaliating for human rights sanctions signed by President Obama earlier this month.  Putin has expressed support for the broader bill, which reciprocates the sanctions, but dodged questions last week about the adoption ban.

At stake are the cases of 46 Russian children whose adoptions would be frozen if the bill becomes law, according to Russia’s children’s ombudsman Pavel Astakhav.  He said those children would receive priority to be adopted by Russian families.

The proposed ban has split Russian society.  Outside the parliament, at least seven people were detained while protesting the bill, according to RIA Novosti.  Human rights advocates have urged Russian authorities not to move forward with the ban, saying it denies Russian orphans a home with a family.

It has also caused a rare division among the Russian government.

Several top officials, including Russia’s foreign and education ministers, have come out against the ban.  A leaked memo from another top official suggested its passage would cause Russia to breach several international treaties, including a recently enacted adoption agreement between the United States and Russia.

Others, like Astakhav, have supported the measure, saying that Russian children should remain in Russia.

A recent poll by the Public Opinion Foundation found a majority of Russians supported the ban, while a quarter opposed it and another quarter expressed no opinion.

Russia is the third most popular place from which Americans adopt children.  According to the State Department, over 45,000 Russian children have been adopted by American families since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Russian officials, however, have pointed to the cases of 19 Russian adopted children who have been killed in the United States as evidence of broader mistreatment of Russian children by their adopted parents.  The adoption ban bill was named after Dima Yakovlev, who died in 2008 after his adoptive father left him in a car in a Washington, D.C., suburb.  The bill also slaps sanctions on Americans accused of abusing Russian children, and on judges deemed to have provided them with lenient sentences.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Russia's Ban on Adoptions to the US Moving Forward

Hemera/Thinkstock(MOSCOW) -- Russia took one step closer to cutting off adoptions by American families Friday.

The lower house of parliament approved a bill that would ban adoptions to the U.S. It was an amendment to a broader measure retaliating for human rights sanctions signed by President Obama a week ago. It also slaps reciprocal sanctions on what they deem to be American human rights abusers.

The ban still requires approval from the upper house of parliament and President Putin's signature before it becomes law. But so far, Putin has shown no sign of blocking it.

On Thursday Putin dodged repeated questions about the ban, saying he had to read the text before opining (for the record, the language of the ban is two sentences long).

Meanwhile, Russian human rights activists have cried foul, saying this plays politics with the lives of orphans. Even Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, usually staunchly anti-American, said the ban is "wrong."

Activists have protested outside the parliament all week, but the measure has strong support from patriotic elements of Russian society, including leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church and Russia's children's ombudsman.

Putin did, however, point out some wiggle room during Thursday's press conference.

The newly minted U.S.-Russia agreement on adoptions requires a one year notice if one side wants to withdraw -- meaning that even if the ban is approved now, it's possible that adoptions could still continue for a year, which is plenty of time to reverse the decision if the Kremlin wants to.

The U.S. Ambassador to Russia, however, issued a statement Friday condemning the lower house's actions.

"If it becomes law, the legislation passed today will needlessly remove the path to families for hundreds of Russian children each year. The welfare of children is simply too important to be linked to others' issues in our bilateral relationship," Michael McFaul said.

Russia is typically the third most popular place for Americans to adopt. The U.S. Embassy there says 60,000 children have been adopted by American parents since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Russian lawmakers, who are seething about the U.S. sanctions, want blood, and are seizing on popular anger (stoked by Kremlin statements and state-run media) over the death of 19 Russian-adopted children over the years and what they believe are lenient sentences issued to parents accused of abusing adopted Russians.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Russian Adoption Ban Proposal Draws Criticism

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(MOSCOW) — Russian lawmakers still appear prepared to introduce a measure that would cut off adoptions of children from Russia to the United States, even as criticism of the move mounts from unexpected corners.

Russia’s human rights community cried foul, accusing the ban’s authors of playing politics with the lives of orphans. The issue also appeared to drive a rare wedge between top Russian officials and members of the ruling United Russia party, which proposed the ban.

The measure in question is a proposed amendment to a bill that retaliates for the Magnitsky Act in the U.S., which imposes sanctions on Russian human rights offenders; President Obama signed it into law on Friday.  The Russian bill is expected to be introduced on Wednesday and the entire package could be approved by the end of the month.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov slammed the proposed amendment, calling it “wrong” and adding that international adoption was a legal right. He called on lawmakers to come to a “reasonable decision.”

The Foreign Ministry piled on from its Twitter account, saying, “A law banning adoption is akin to examples in Russian history when it was easier to ban everything rather than tackle unlawful actions.”

Russia’s children’s rights ombudsman Pavel Astakhav, however, spoke in favor of an adoption ban, saying it should have happened years ago.

Astakhav has led the Russian government’s effort to demand access to Russian children it believes are mistreated in the United States. Last summer he showed up unannounced at a Montana ranch for troubled adopted children with a Russian camera crew, demanding access to what he called discarded children.

Russia’s human rights ombudsman Vladimir Lukin disagreed, calling the proposal “shameless.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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