Appeals from US Congress for Russian Orphans

June 17, 2013
Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama

[The following article describes measures taken by US legislators and adoptive parents to protest against the Dima Yakolev Law, which bans US citizens from adopting Russian children. The concerned parties have asked President Obama to raise the issue when he meets with Vladimir Putin at the G8 summit this week.—Ed.]  

Lifting the ban on the adoption of Russian orphans by Americans could be high on the agenda of negotiations between Russian and US presidents. Before the G8 summit, members of the US Congress appealed to the President to secure exceptions for those children who have already met their prospective American adopted parents.

The open letter to the President was signed by 154 legislators, representing 44 states. “The unresolved political issues in the relations between the two countries have become a personal tragedy for several hundred Russian orphans,” says Senator Mary Landrieu, who initiated that drive. “Many of them need urgent medical attention, and all of them without exception need a hope for brighter future. However, nobody asked for their opinion.”

After the Dima Yakovlev Law came into force, the United States appealed to Moscow on a number of occasions to make an exception for those children, who have already met their would-be adopted parents. Members of the Congressional bipartisan coalition for adoption, which includes 135 legislators from both houses, tried to negotiate with Russian authorities. In March, 118 legislators signed a letter addressed to the Russian President. According to our information, that issue was discussed during a recent visit to Moscow by the US State Secretary John Kerry, and more than 8,000 petitions were addressed to the Russian authorities. None of them were replied to.

The open letter by the legislators was a response to petitions by several initiative groups, representing the adopted parents, who had started adoption procedures but hadn’t completed the process by the time the Dima Yakovlev Law came into effect. According to the documents submitted by Senator Landrieu to the White House, there are 278 Russian orphans who have already met their prospective parents. At least 20 of them have serious health problems, including the Down’s syndrome, HIV and epidemolysis bullosa. Forty three of them require urgent surgical intervention.

According to Senator Landrieu, the adopted parents hoped that the problem would be resolved during the negotiations with a delegation from the Russian Ministry of Education and Science that visited Washington in mid-April to discuss adoption-related issues. Those discussions came to nothing.

According to a source close to the US State Department, the members of the Russian delegation declined to discuss the fate of those 278 orphans, citing the lack of an “effective supervision and control system.” Last fall, the Russian Embassy in Washington suggested establishing a new non-profit organization in the US to collect information about adopted Russian children and the conditions in which they live. Several months ago, a Chicago-based charity founded by immigrants from the former Soviet Union came up with a similar initiative.

In mid-May, Renee and John Tomas, who adopted a Russian boy back in 2008, submitted another petition to the Senate on behalf of the families adversely affected by the Dima Yakovlev Law. Two years ago, they began procedures to adopt their adopted son’s brother from a Russian orphanage, but couldn’t complete the process. In less than a month, the couple’s petition was signed by more than 8,000 people from all 50 states.“We promised these children that we would come back, no matter what, and we intend to keep that promise,” Renee Thomas said.

That petition resulted in yet another letter to Barack Obama. It was signed by the members of both houses representing the state of Ohio, including House Speaker John Boehner. “We are aware that this problem could be resolved at the highest level only, and we ask you to personally bring this issue of lifting the adoption ban to the attention of Vladimir Putin,” the authors of the letter wrote.

Senator Mary Landrieu is confident that the Russian orphans will be high on the agenda of the upcoming meeting between the two presidents. “The leaders of the two world powers should take a time out and find a way out of this political swamp and find a solution, on which lives of hundreds of children, who have suffered a lot, depends,” the Senator said.