In Russia, Ban on U.S. Adoptions Creates Rancor and Confusion

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MOSCOW -- Despite the adoption ban that has roiled the Russian public and deeply splintered the country's political and intellectual establishment, Rebecca and Brian Preece arrived here from Idaho on Monday expecting to pick up their new child, a 4-year-old boy with Down syndrome. They plan to call him Gabriel.

A judge approved their adoption on Nov. 29 -- well before the ban took effect on Jan. 1 -- and last week President Vladimir V. Putin's spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, said adoptions with court approval could go forward. That view was echoed by Pavel Astakhov, the federal children's ombudsman, who is perhaps the ban's strongest supporter.

But instead of making plans for the return flight home, the Preeces and at least five other families are now caught in legalistic limbo, as various officials within Russia's sprawling bureaucracy try to figure out precisely what the ban means, and -- perhaps more important -- what higher-ups at the Kremlin actually want and expect them to do.

At a court hearing on Tuesday, Judge Alexandra S. Lopatkina said she could not sign a decree finalizing the Preeces' adoption without further guidance from Russia's Supreme Court. Even if she signed the decree, she said, there was no guarantee that other officials would issue the boy a passport. And even if he was granted a passport, she said, immigration agents might block his departure at the airport.

So they wait -- Mr. and Ms. Preece at a room in a downtown hotel, their son in a city orphanage. "It's an emotional roller coaster," Mr. Preece said. "You hear good news, and you cross fingers on that news. Then it gets crossed out and it starts over."

Public rancor over the ban has grown. After thousands of people protested it in Moscow on Sunday at an event called a "March Against Scoundrels," three opposition lawmakers on Tuesday proposed legislation to repeal the ban. They cited a petition denouncing it signed by more than 130,000 people.

It was Parliament's first day back from a two-week holiday recess, and lawmakers traded angry barbs. Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the leader of the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party, called opponents of the ban traitors who want to "send our intelligence away to America."

On Monday, Prime Minister Dmitri A. Medvedev, speaking at a conference he organized, warned that Russia should be realistic in setting new policies intended to encourage domestic adoptions. At the same event, Deputy Prime Minister Olga Golodets noted that Russia currently has a database of 128,000 orphans eligible for adoption but only about 18,000 prospective families willing to adopt.

"These children need a family," she said.

In all, Russia has more than 650,000 children in what is widely acknowledged to be a deeply troubled child welfare system. Most of those children are in foster care and cannot be adopted.

Alla V. Prozorova, an adoption facilitator who is working with the Preeces and other Americans, said officials, including Judge Lopatkina, seemed perplexed about how to proceed.

"She herself sent a letter to the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation, and in this letter, she asked them for explanations," Ms. Prozorova said of the judge. Ms. Prozorova had been working for an agency called Homestudies and Adoption Placement Services, based in New Jersey. But the adoption ban also prohibited American adoption agencies from operating in Russia. She is now acting as a volunteer trying to help families complete their adoptions.

The fierce debate over the ban has included an avalanche of rumors and allegations, some outlandishly conspiratorial and xenophobic: for example, that Americans want Russian children so they can later steal their organs for transplant or conscript them into the military.

On Tuesday, a report in the newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda was tilted heavily in favor of the ban and sought to dispel "myths" that adoptions by Americans were necessary to help sick children or because orphanages are underfinanced and not enough Russians want to adopt. The newspaper cited government statistics showing that fewer than 10 percent of Russian children adopted by Americans in each of the last five years were considered disabled.

But Ms. Prozorova, who has worked in the field of international adoptions for 14 years, said that the report was misleading because virtually no one else was willing to adopt disabled children.

"People who are involved in this problem -- I mean even higher-level authorities -- they know only Americans really volunteer to adopt special needs children," she said. "No Italian, no French, no Germans." She said that in recent years she had helped facilitate adoptions of children with H.I.V., spina bifida, cerebral palsy and other illnesses and disabilities.

The Preeces, for example, already have three biological children, including a 6-year-old with Down syndrome, and said they wanted to help another child facing the same challenge.

"We just found out through friends who were also adopting about the great need here for children with disabilities; basically they are not accepted into society," Ms. Preece said. "This is something we were not afraid to do and were willing to do."

Staying down the hall from them at their hotel is Jeana Bonner from Salt Lake Valley, Utah, who is waiting to adopt a 5-year-old girl, also with Down syndrome. She has two biological daughters, including a 3-year-old with Down syndrome.

Ms. Bonner said she and her husband had made three previous trips to Russia as part of the adoption process. This time, she came alone, while her husband is home with their other two children. "We're in the same boat," she said. "We are just waiting."

world

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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