MOSCOW, December 25 (RIA Novosti) - A bill adopted by the lower house of Russia’s parliament, which bans US citizens from adopting Russian children, is purely political and is designed to distract public attention from other problems, a public organization led by ex-finance minister Alexei Kudrin has said.
“As a result, our country, where the legislative power demonstrates its dependence on the executive branch of power and the current political situation, is losing,” the Civic Initiatives Committee said on its website on Monday.
The Russian State Duma adopted the so-called Dima Yakovlev bill in a third and final reading on Friday. The draft law could come into effect in January once approved by the Federation Council and signed by President Vladimir Putin.
The bill was dubbed after a 21-month-old Russian child who died of heatstroke in July 2008 when his adoptive US father, Miles Harrison, left him unattended in a car for nine hours. Several highly placed Russian officials, including Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, spoke against the adoption of the draft law.
The draft law retaliates for enactment of the Magnitsky Act in the United States, which imposes visa bans and asset freezes on Russian officials deemed guilty of human rights abuses.
Kudrin’s committee said Americans “lose nothing” if the “Dima Yakovlev bill” is adopted because they would then render more significant aid to children from other countries.
“The draft law violates not the rights of American adopters but those of Russian orphans and sick children that our country cannot provide assistance and safety for at this stage,” the organization said.
“As a result, Russian children become hostage to political games. First, worthy conditions for children to reside in families inside the country should be achieved, and only then the very possibility of such legislative amendments should be discussed,” it said.
The Civic Initiatives Committee said the controversial bill was an attempt to distract attention from internal problems and stop the decline in public confidence in the authorities.
“But it is impossible to restore trust by using this strange and risky method,” the organization said.
Backers of the ban often cite cases of neglect and violence by US adoptive parents against Russian children, which have gotten widespread media attention in Russia. Harrison, the adoptive father of Dima Yakovlev, was acquitted by a Virginia court of involuntary manslaughter, fueling a wave of criticism from Russia.
President Putin on Thursday voiced support for the proposed adoption ban and complained bitterly that US authorities do not allow Russian officials to monitor the condition of adoptive children or sit in on court hearings regarding their well-being.
Nineteen Russian children have died in American families over the past decade, according to the office of Pavel Astakhov, Russia’s ombudsman for children’s rights. Astakhov, an opponent of foreign adoptions, defended the ban at a press conference last week, saying “it should have been done long ago.”
“We need to protect our children,” he added.
Astakhov, a longtime ally of Putin and a US-trained lawyer, said Russia’s response falls “in line with international practice,” and would not acknowledge the planned adoption ban as “a political act.”
Russia suspended adoptions by US citizens two years ago, after the adoptive American mother of 8-year-old Artyom Savelyev sent him alone on a plane back to Russia with a note saying she could no longer take care of him.
Ultimately, the two countries signed a bilateral agreement aimed at improving oversight and reducing abuses of adopted Russian children, which went into effect on November 1. If the new amendments are signed into law, the agreement would be annulled.
Astakhov, who initially supported the agreement, said last week that it had not produced any results within the weeks since its enactment, and Russian officials still experience difficulties when trying to oversee the welfare of adoptive Russian children in the United States.
While US citizens adopted more Russian children last year than families from any other country, as a portion of overall adoptions the number was tiny. According to Education Ministry statistics, Americans adopted 956 Russian children in 2011. Overall, foreigners accounted for 31.4 percent (3,400) of last year’s adoptions in Russia, while Russian citizens made up 68.6 percent (7,416).
Between 1991 and 2006, some 1,220 adopted children died in Russia, according to data reported earlier by RIA Novosti, including 12 killed by their parents. Figures for more recent years were not immediately available.
Critics of the proposed “Dima Yakovlev bill” warn that it would seriously hurt disabled children, who, they say, are frequently adopted by foreigners. But Astakhov argued that foreigners adopt mostly healthy children, citing a figure of 70 percent.
In 2011, according to ministry figures, 89 of the children adopted by American families, or about 9 percent, were registered as having disabilities.
While the adoption ban is the most controversial aspect of the proposed legislation, the bill puts forward other retaliatory measures as well, like banning alleged US abusers of Russian citizens’ rights from entering Russia and freezing any assets they may have here.