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Russia and US discuss adoptions

By Richard Galpin
BBC News, Moscow

Russian children's rights ombudsman Pavel Astakhov, 19 April 2010
Pavel Astakhov said Russia wanted clear guarantees

Russia and the US have held talks in Moscow over the adoption of Russian orphans by American families, which were suspended this month.

Russia's ombudsman for child rights told the BBC a draft treaty that would ensure the safety of adopted children would be handed to US officials.

He said Russia would not allow adoptions until the treaty was signed.

The tough new stance comes after a US woman sent a seven-year-old adopted orphan back to Russia unaccompanied.

He arrived at Moscow airport earlier this month carrying a note from the woman in Tennessee who was supposed to be his new mother, saying she did not want him.

Growing anger

The Russian government described this case as "a monstrous deed" and "the last straw".

We want the right to go to the US and monitor the situation where our children live
Pavel Astakhov
Russian ombudsman for child rights

There had already been growing anger about the number of Russian children who had been killed by their American parents or died as a result of neglect, since foreign adoptions began in the mid-1990s.

According to officials in Moscow, the number of those who have died is 16.

"We want the right to go to the US and monitor the situation where our children live," said the ombudsman, Pavel Astakhov.

This would include allowing officials from Russia's social services as well as Russian diplomats based in the US to enter the homes of families who have adopted orphans.

A spokesman for the US embassy in Moscow refused to comment on whether the US government would accept the new conditions being demanded by the Russian authorities before adoptions can resume.

But speaking after Thursday's talks the head of the US delegation, deputy assistant secretary for consular affairs Michael Kirby, said the meeting had been "fruitful".

"We agree we want to do the best for the children… and we will meet again on 12 May," he said.

American families waiting

According to the United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef), there are more than 700,000 children in Russia who are either orphans or do not live with their biological parents.

Mary Schultz
It's very emotional, your hope is there and you put your heart into it
Mary Shultz

Most are being looked after by relatives, but the latest official figures show that 140,000 children are currently in orphanages waiting to be adopted either by Russian families or foreigners.

A large proportion do go abroad, with the US taking the largest number.

The suspension of adoptions to the US, which began two weeks ago, is reported to be affecting 3,000 American families.

"No matter where you are in the process [of adopting], it's heart-breaking," says Mary Shultz, who was in Moscow this week trying to finalise the adoption of her second Russian child so she can take him back home to Wisconsin.

"It's very emotional, your hope is there and you put your heart into it… it's very difficult."

She still believes she will be able to collect a three-year-old boy from his orphanage when she returns to Russia next month.

But officials insist all cases have now been put on hold until the agreement with the US is signed.

Prospective parents and Unicef are concerned this will be very traumatic for the children involved, who are expecting to leave their orphanages and become part of a new family.

Russian officials say the negotiations for a new treaty could take anything up to six months to complete.

They are also demanding that American families that adopt Russian children maintain the children's Russian language, culture and traditions.

If agreement is not reached, Mr Astakhov has warned that the Russian parliament could change the law to ban all foreign adoptions.



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SEE ALSO
Russia 'suspends adoptions to US'
15 Apr 10 |  Europe
US and Russia in adoption row
10 Apr 10 |  Europe

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