Russia has shifted stance toward foreign adoption several times over the past 30 years. Under Communism, there were no guidelines that allowed for Russian children to be adopted. But, when Yeltsin took over, he allowed the citizens more freedom and allowed for Russian children to be adopted by other families. Once Vladimir Putin came along, the stakes changed. Putin issued a ban on American families from adopting from Russia. Yeltsin helped many Russian children have a better life, while Putin’s decision negatively affected many American families, and worsened the lives of many Russian children.
Boris Yeltsin became the first President of the Russian Federation in 1991, after the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics ceased to exist. Yeltsin focused on the people more than anything during his rule and in particular, their freedoms. Communism gave little freedom to the people, thus Yeltsin removed Communism completely. One of the freedoms Yeltsin established during his rule was allowing for more Russian children to be eligible for adoption. The main reason families were adopting children from Russia was because they wanted to provide a home for a child in need. Many children lived in tough situations where drugs and alcohol were involved, also low income made it difficult for families to provide for their child. Even though Yeltsin was giving the people more freedoms, many living situations remained as poor as they were during the communist era.
Yeltsin himself was the one who changed the policy on adoption in Russia, when he signed the New Adoption Law on March 10, 1995.1 The new law allowed for more Russian children to be eligible for adoption and provided more clear-cut guidelines for how to adopt. Beth Knobel, a journalist for the Los Angeles Times, commented on the new law when she stated, “While the Russians regretted giving away their children, they did want them to have a better home and life.”2 The new law required adopting parents to travel to Russia to “go through certain formalities.”3 Part of the formalities included mandatory meetings with the Russian government and the adopting parents to prove they were good parents and the child would have a good home. This new law was a lot different from the previous adoption law which made Russian children only available for adoption if they had a medical issue or were deemed unhealthy. Yeltsin’s decision displayed fascinating results. Between the approval of this new adoption law, an average of over 4,200 adoptions per year through 2006, took place.4 The staggering amount of adoptions indicated how willing people across the globe were to help Russian children have a better life. Without these contributions by President Yeltsin, many Russian orphans would not have the life they currently have.
Yeltsin resigned as President in 1999 and passed the torch on to the 2nd President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin. Putin’s approach to governing was a lot different than his predecessor. The first provisions put out by Putin as stated in his Annual Address to the Federal Assembly claimed “First, we need to lower the death rate. Second, we need an effective migration policy. And third, we need to increase the birth rate.”5 Putin believed Russia was losing its natives, either too early in life or simply to migration. He encouraged families to have multiple children and even provided payment plans to help them raise their children. To fix the problems, Putin declared, “We cannot resolve the problem of the low birth rate without changing the attitudes within our society to families and family values. Love for one’s homeland, for one’s country, starts with love for one’s family.”6 By restoring the values and loving of one’s family, Putin believed that native Russians would not want to leave their home country.
One of the biggest problems Putin continued to face was retaining citizens. Children continued to be adopted based on the adoption law, signed by Yeltsin, which remained in effect for a majority of Putin’s administration. But, after learning about the death of Dima Yakovlev, an adopted Russian boy who died after being left in a hot car by his adoptive father,7 Vladimir Putin took action. On December 27, 2012 Putin signed a bill, known as the Dima Yakovlev Law, which banned the adoption of Russian children by American citizens.8 Erik Eckholm, a journalist for the New York Times, stated “but for hundreds of Americans enmeshed in the costly, complicated process, the impact was deeply personal.”9 Many families were in the process of actively adopting children and because of the bill signed by Putin, they no longer were able to adopt their child. Despite the immense loss of money, the fact that those families in the final stages of adoption and were not able to finish the adoption process really changed the lives of many hopeful American parents. Putin downplayed the loss of adoptions for Americans when he said, “There are probably many places in the world where living standards are better than ours. So what? Shall we send all children there, or move there ourselves?”10 Russia and the United States have never been close allies, and Putin’s statement clearly resembles his view of America being no better of a country than any other.
Many Russian children also were indirectly impacted as a result of this case. Shai Baitel, a columnist for the Huffington Post, stated, “Forty-six Russian children whose adoption by American parents was nearly completed were blocked from leaving the country.”11 Erik Eckholm also added that an estimated 200-250 parents whose adopted child was already identified were affected.12 These children were likely headed to a better living situation in America, but because of Putin, had to suffer through their life at home or in the often crowded orphanages. Interestingly enough, Baitel discussed a study where in the past 20 years, “60,000 US adoptions of Russia children have resulted in 19 deaths, 0.03%. But, Russia’s overall child death rate is nearly two times higher.”13 The fact that more Russians die at home than abroad is contradictory to the action by Putin. He clearly was more worried about the way the United States treated Russian children than how Russians treated their own children. These statistics provide a direct example of the reasons why many Americans were outraged with Putin’s decision to sign the law. Nevertheless, the one poor treatment of a Russian child resulted in many more Russian children suffering.
Researching this whole topic of Russian adoption really interested me because I can exactly relate to the situation. When I was nine months old, my parents completed the adoption process and adopted me into their family. My birth parents, like many at the time, were young, not particularly wealthy, and wanted me to have a better life. After living in an orphanage in Ryazan, Russia for nine months, a family had been found for me. My adopting parents had been interested in adopting for quite some time and after traveling to Moscow to file paperwork and seek approval, traveled back in April of 1997 to officially bring me to the United States on April 11, 1997. My parents knew about the ongoing situation with adoption and were very pleased when President Yeltsin signed the new adoption law because without it, I would not be here today. I try not to think about my adoption every day, but I never forget the sacrifices my parents made for me, and I share every April 11th with my family to celebrate in remembrance of my adoption. I am forever grateful of the sacrifices they made for me, especially because there are many Russian children in orphanages like I was, who might not be as fortunate as I am today. I really hope there can be some resolution or appeal to the law signed by Putin because there are people in the world who want to help and provide a better life for those in need.
1. Beth Knobel, “Yeltsin Signs Law Expanding Adoptions by Foreigners.” (Los Angeles Times, 1995).
2. Beth Knobel, “Yeltsin Signs Law Expanding Adoptions by Foreigners.” (Los Angeles Times, 1995).
3. Beth Knobel, “Yeltsin Signs Law Expanding Adoptions by Foreigners.” (Los Angeles Times, 1995).
4. US Department of State, “Inter Country Adoption Statistics” (1996-2006).
5. Vladimir Putin, “Annual Address to the Federal Assembly” in Documents in Modern Russian and Chinese History (McGraw Hill Education, 2014), 104.
6. Vladimir Putin, “Annual Address to the Federal Assembly” in Documents in Modern Russian and Chinese History (McGraw Hill Education, 2014), 105.
7. Shai Baitel, “”Russia’s Adoption Ban Two Years Later.” (The Huffington Post, 2014).
8. Erik Eckholm, “Putin Signs Bill That Bars U.S. Adoptions, Upending Families.” (The New York Times, 2012).
9. Erik Eckholm, “Putin Signs Bill That Bars U.S. Adoptions, Upending Families.” (The New York Times, 2012).
10. Erik Eckholm, “Putin Signs Bill That Bars U.S. Adoptions, Upending Families.” (The New York Times, 2012).
11. Shai Baitel, “”Russia’s Adoption Ban Two Years Later.” (The Huffington Post, 2014).
12. Erik Eckholm, “Putin Signs Bill That Bars U.S. Adoptions, Upending Families.” (The New York Times, 2012).
13. Shai Baitel, “”Russia’s Adoption Ban Two Years Later.” (The Huffington Post, 2014).
Shai Baitel, “Russia’s Adoption Ban Two Years Later.” The Huffington Post. December 31, 2014. Accessed October 28, 2015. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/shai-baitel/russias- adoption-ban-two_b_6399064.html.
Erik Eckholm, “Putin Signs Bill That Bars U.S. Adoptions, Upending Families.” The New York Times. December 27, 2012. Accessed October 28, 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/28/world/europe/putin-to-sign-ban-on-us- adoptions-of-russian-children.html.
June Grasso, Michael Kort, and William Tilchin, eds. Documents in Modern Russian and Chinese History. 9th ed. McGraw-Hill Education, 2014. 97-110.
Beth Knobel, “Yeltsin Signs Law Expanding Adoptions by Foreigners.” Los Angeles Times. March 16, 1995. Accessed October 28, 2015. http://articles.latimes.com/1995-03-16/news/mn- 43482_1_adoption-law.
“Inter Country Adoption Statistics.” US Department of State. Accessed October 29, 2015. http://travel.state.gov/content/adoptionsabroad/en/about-us/statistics.html.