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Over the last two decades, American families have adopted more than 60,000 Russian children. Many of these adoptees are physically handicapped, suffering from debilitating mental illness, or the victims of abuse. The Russian government’s system of state-run institutions seem ill equipped to provide these orphaned and abandoned children with the care they need. The government demands (and collects) a fee for all children adopted by U.S. citizens, so continuing those placements would seem to be a win-win scenario for everyone.

So why, then, is the Duma—Russia’s parliament—poised to pass a law sponsored by Vladimir Putin’s government that puts a halt to all American adoptions of Russian children?

It’s payback, of a sort

In 2008, a Russian lawyer named Sergei Magnitsky discovered that a cabal of Russian officials had embezzled over $200 million from the Russian treasury. He publicly accused them of their crimes; they had him arrested on trumped-up charges. Magnitsky was imprisoned and tortured; he died in prison in 2009.

The officials who were responsible for Magnitsky’s death have mostly retained their government jobs. Some even have been given promotions.

Last month, the U.S. Congress responded to international calls for justice by passing the U.S. Magnitsky Act, which bars those officials from traveling to the United States or doing some kinds of business here. This has enraged the Putin government in Russia, which sees the U.S. Magnitsky Act as interfering with Russia’s internal affairs. In retaliation, President Putin threw the whole weight of his government’s authority behind the measure to ban adoptions by U.S. citizens.

Violating International Law

Even some of Putin’s political allies see the measure as unwise. Dmitri Livanov, the Minister of Education, admitted recently, “[Our] own children may suffer, the ones who could not find foster parents in Russia.”

More important is a warning from Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister, Olga Golodets. She wrote a letter to President Putin to point out that the ban on American adoptions of Russian children has the potential to violate several international treaties and a special agreement on adoptions ratified in 2012 by the United States and Russia.

According to the Russian Ministry of Education and Science, over 650,000 Russian children are living without parental supervision. Over half a million are in foster care programs, and another 100,000 are in orphanages. Adoption by U.S. parents has served as a minor but essential relief value for pressure in this system.

The adoption attorneys at Speaks Law Firm in North Carolina will continue to monitor this situation carefully. We recognize that international adoptions have become controversial in recent years, but this action by the Russian Duma appears set to hurt everyone’s interests. We hope for a peaceful resolution to this matter early in this new year.