Thursday, March 02, 2006

What's the Matter Here? - Russian Orphans & American Adoption

The View From Russia - In light of the recent Peggy Sue Hilt murder case, Russian newspapers and politicians are eager to make a case for cruelty and abuse against American families that adopt Russian children. Why not? It sells newspapers, it isn't a controversial topic, there is only one right answer - abuse of our children must be stopped! It makes Russians feel good that they can point their finger at obviously cruel and sadistic Americans, and feel superior. 13 children have died at the hands of foreigners - obviously it is high time to stop this! Who can imagine what sick atrocities are being committed on these poor Russian children?

Further, once these children are adopted and the visa approved, they are considered American citizens. The Russian government wrings its hands, worrying about the fate of these poor thousands of children who are subject to the depravity of America - but because they are American citizens, they have no recourse. Alas, the Russian government laments, they can do nothing. If only, IF ONLY, these children had been adopted by Russians! Obviously, there are so many Russian families looking to adopt more children ...

These headlines are typical, as discussed in this radio broadcast transcript (my bad translation):
Today a theme of our broadcast: Adoption of the Russian orphans by foreign citizens. Passions boil around this really, serious problem already for a long time, and especially recently.

"Detoprodavtsy", "Abduction", “ Currency in pampers ” - here some of newspaper headlines, devoted to this question. About adoption of orphans by foreigners, (these reporters) write as though it is a criminal process, as though it is the sale of a genofund, the future to Russia.

As a result I have questions. In estimations of process of adoption, in my opinion, it is necessary to proceed not from interests of the state or ethnos, but, first of all, from interests of the child. Is it bad that the young orphan will grow-up in a good family, even if outside our country? Besides, seriously sick children are often adopted by foreigners. And if our citizens for the different reasons do not hasten to take in such a child thank God, that on it the Russian family is ready for this.

In answering, it is possible to hear following objections: First, Russian children who have been taken out abroad, often appear in awful conditions, there are even cases when reception parents killed these children. Secondly, children can be adopted for criminal purposes. Terrible histories about bodies for change and so forth here again emerge. Thirdly, many Russian families also would like to adopt the orphan, but because of foreign firms cannot, as these firms specialize in the export of children, using imperfections in the Russian laws, and at times operate around the laws, have put the export of orphan children from Russia on a stream. The newspaper Izvestiya, for example, has recently reported that 85 % of orphans are adopted by foreigners and only 15 % by Russians.

But in fact these figures prove nothing, as they directly contradict data of the State Office of Public Prosecutor available to me. According this data, for last years Russian orphans were adopted by Russians and foreigners in approximately equal proportions.

Some of the Numbers -
  • Estimated 700,000 Russian Orphan Children in 2005 (reported figures vary widely depending upon the source)
  • There are an estimated 2 to 4 million homeless Russian children, wandering city streets
  • Approximately 1.6 million adopted children in the US under the age of 18
  • 13% of adopted children in the US are foreign born.
  • 24% of these foreign born children are from Korea (largest source of foreign-born adopted children in the US)
  • Since 1996 approximately 40,000 Russian children have been adopted by American families (approximately 6,000 in 2005 and generally increasing every year)
  • Since 1996 a reported 12 deaths of Russian children at the hands of their American adopted parents (0.03%)
  • 72% of Russian families do not wish to adopt Russian orphans (July 2005, ROMIR Monitoring)
  • 5% of Russian familes polled currently wished to adopt (again ROMIR)

The View from the USA - I want to be delicate in how I say this ... but the prevailing image of Russian orphans is that they are not treated well. It is pretty difficult to find this documentation in Russian. Russian newspapers tend not to report much about it. But international and American news sources regarding poor treatment and neglect of orphans are ... both ... abundant and graphic (you will not want to look at the photos in the last link - if you are particularly sensitive to these things).

However, Russian newspapers do report many cases of abuse of Russian children ... it just seems that detskii doma are mostly portrayed as being tender and caring places. Is this really the condition of these orphanages? Are the conditions improving for Russian orphans? If there is some improvement it could partially be due to the scathing 1998 Human Rights Watch report Cruelty and Neglect in Russian Orphanages. I avoided quoting from this report, given that it is somewhat dated. However, this is the information that Americans are likely to see and read regarding conditions for Russian orphans, that would encourage families to adopt a Russian child. Most of these families have no idea that this has become an increasingly controversial or volatile topic in Russia ... the 12 deaths of Russian orphans has not been widely reported here at all. This is in remarkable contrast to the way this topic has played in Russian newspapers, radio, and television. Again, as reported elsewhere, the impression these two countries have of each other are remarkably divergent.

And What I Believe - I think American families are fulfilling a need in adopting foreign children, both from Russia and elsewhere. The vast majority of these children find good and loving homes and families, and benefit from adoption. Many Russian orphans suffer from medical problems and conditions that would make it difficult even for a moderately well-to-do Russian family to provide care. Screening of potential adopting parents can never be perfect - that much is certain - but in the case of Russian adoptions there appears to be a case where screening could be improved (like many bureaucratic efforts in Russia, in my opinion).

All that being said, much of what I read and hear about on this topic within Russia, seems to be driven by Russian pride and a certain sense or desire to vilify the US at any available opportunity. There also appears to be this pervasive myth that Americans hate Russians. I've often encountered this, particularly in regards to US Visa laws, which many Russians believe are specifically designed to exclude them. This would hardly seem to be the case, as Russians are annually the #1 European foreign immigrant group to the US.

Recently, I was seriously asked by someone (Russian) "Why do Americans adopt Russian children and kill them?" ... as if the sole purpose was a deep-seated desire by Americans to kill Russians or harm them. There is no such desire, but as long as there are parents ... there will also be bad parents. And among bad parents, there will always be those who are truly abusive. This is true in any nation, and not especially the US (in English and in Russian).


Megan Case said...

Yeah, Russians love any opportunity to feel nationalistic and better than Americans. Even if Russian orphanages are horrible places to be and very few Russians have any interest in adoption.

I think that any discussion of this issue needs to have statistics on child abuse in both countries, both in general and in adoptive families. 12 deaths in 10 years does sound a bit high, actually. Aren't adoptive parents supposed to be investigated by social workers and be less likely to have abusive tendencies?

Well whatever. I'm obviously not an expert on the subject either. But the knee-jerk reaction of some Russians annoys me too.

W. Shedd said...

Yes, I was trying to be careful how I framed the topic also. I think Russians have a right to be proud of their country and traditions - I just become surprised when it is framed in the context of comparison to "the West". I've called it a chip-on-the-shoulder and tried to explain that to some where I can have a rational discussion of that. The news there definitely plays towards that stuff - it sells.

You are right about the statistics for abuse, I cited a World Health Organization paper that has some numbers on child abuse and corporal punishment. It cites figures for the US and some other nations, but not for Russia. To be honest, I felt those statistics almost appeared designed to make the US look good - the other nations were not so developed (Chile, India, Egypt, and Phillipines were the other nations cited).

I think the death figures are unacceptable also, and feel the regulations should be made more firm, with more careful screening of potential parents. Often these adoptive parents are not in position where they want to wait, so going to a country with fewer regulations provides them with children sooner. However, that also increases the likelihood of abuse.

Some of the headlines on that RegNum link talk about children adopted by agencies to work in mines or sold into the sex-trade industry, etc. I know mine regulations here in the US, so I know that is extremely unlikely here, but might happen in other nations. The sex-trade industry is just an ugly ugly topic. There are likely many opportunities for these children to be exploited in that fashion.

Anonymous said...

A question for W. Shedd who seems to be well informed on the issues: Where can reliable statistics regarding Russian orphans be found, GosComStat? The 1998 Human Rights Watch report contains seeming inconsistencies, e.g., "Of a total of more than 600,000 children classified as being 'without parental care,' as many as one-third reside in institutions, while the rest are placed with a variety of guardians."

"Human Rights Watch concludes that the Russian state fails to provide sufficient protection and opportunities to thousands of children who are abandonedto the state at a rate of 113,000 a year for the past two years, up dramatically from 67,286 in 1992."

One-third of 600,000, that is 200,000 institutionalized does not seem consistent with 113,000 per year. Elsewhere the number 700,000 institutionalized has been thrown around for years.

International comparisons regarding children orphaned/institutionalized as percentages of total population would be especially useful, even more so for other former Communist Eastern European countries.

Do you have links where any of this can be found?

Dave Hardy said...

??? 700,000 children adopted, and over a period of ten years five were killed by their parents (and another 16 died in accidents). What's the issue? Anytime you have hundreds of thousands of children, some small number will fall prey to criminal parents, and some small number will die in accidents. The overall murder rate in the U.S. is I think about 6 per 100,000 persons, the murder rate in Russia somewhat higher. The annual murder rate for the adopted children appears to be about 0.3 per 100,000.

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