Omaha mom Kathy Gnirk, who has two daughters who are among the 60,000 Russian children adopted by Americans over the past two decades, asks exactly the right question: “Why are you punishing kids? Children are happiness, not political pawns.”
But that’s not how Russia’s puffed-up parliament and president see things. They view their nation’s thousands of orphaned children as nothing more than chess pieces to be used in a strange display of national hubris.
As of Jan. 1, a new law adopted by the parliament and signed by President Vladimir Putin forbids adoption of Russian children by Americans. It also appears to block the 46 U.S. adoptions that were already in the works.
Although there have been a few isolated cases of Russian children being mistreated after their adoptions, most notably a Tennessee woman who put her 7-year-old son on a one-way flight back to Russia in 2010, this dreadful law has nothing to do with the welfare of Russian children.
Rather, it comes as retaliation for a U.S. law that denied visas and other privileges to Russian officials who violate human rights. The American law was named for Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who died of maltreatment in prison after blowing the whistle on rampant tax fraud among Russian officials and police.
According to UNICEF, about 740,000 children are not in parental custody in Russia, while only about 18,000 Russians are on the waiting list to adopt a child. Although the number has been dropping in recent years, Russia remains the third-most-popular country behind China and Ethiopia for U.S. citizens seeking to adopt. In 2011, Americans adopted 1,000 of the roughly 10,000 Russian children who found homes, the Washington Post reported.
The law has generated criticism of Putin, both internationally and from some quarters of his own government. Such pressure helps, certainly, but what is needed is a change of heart by Putin and Russian legislators.
Taking care of children who need homes and families — rather than defending corrupt officials — would be a much more impressive display of their national pride.