Russia Enacts New Adoption Rules
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
Last year, a Tennessee woman sent her seven-year-old adopted son to Russia alone on an airplane with a note asking the authorities to take him back. The move outraged Russians and Americans. Russia threatened to ban American adoptions of Russian children. Finally, this week, the U.S. and Russia reached an agreement. It ensures adoptions will continue but under tighter scrutiny.
David Crary covered the story for the Associated Press, and he joins me now from our New York bureau.
David, thanks so much for being with us.
Mr. DAVID CRARY (Associated Press): I'm glad to be here, Michele.
NORRIS: More than 50,000 Russian children have been adopted by U.S. parents since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. Why did it take 20 years to have this formal bilateral agreement?
Mr. CRARY: Well, the U.S. is an unusual country compared to most Western countries, certainly, in that adoption is not a federal responsibility. It's a little bit of a Wild West. So, our whole adoption process with Russia and other countries was done by individual adoption agencies.
For a while, Russia seemed to kind of put up with the system and their impatience and frustration and anger has been building up for several years. And this Tennessee case you mentioned was, as they put it, the last straw and they wanted to put new controls over it.
NORRIS: So they have been angry for some time?
Mr. CRARY: Yeah. There have been a number of abuse cases over, say, three or four years, one fatality at least and some serious abuse cases. So they've been raising questions and getting angry over a number of years.
NORRIS: So what do we know about this tighter scrutiny? What would this new agreement require?
Mr. CRARY: The essence of it is that it puts the onus on U.S. adoption agencies that want to be active in Russia. If they want to be part of this process, they're going to have to agree with the Russians that they will have periodic visits of the Russian kids who come to the States, that they will send reports back to Russian authorities about how these children are developing. That will all be locked into place in a much more formal way than it was before.
NORRIS: And who will oversee all of this?
Mr. CRARY: Well, that's a really good question. The U.S. government is going to play a kind of logistical role in helping facilitate this treaty. But they're not going to be doing the investigations themselves. They will, in effect, be making sure that the adoption agencies live up to their commitments to be proactive in looking for trouble.
NORRIS: Now we've been mentioning agencies. Sometimes they are independent operators that don't necessarily work through an agency that help facilitate adoptions. How would the rules change for them?
Mr. CRARY: Well, you touched on a key point in this whole agreement. A lot of the troublesome adoptions that have been coming from Russia in the past were arranged by these independent brokers. Those are going to be completely prohibited under this new agreement. All of the adoptions will need to be done through authorized agencies.
NORRIS: And what will Russia do to regulate itself? It seems that transparency was also an issue with some of these Russian orphanages. Some didn't fully disclose psychological problems that the children had.
Mr. CRARY: Exactly right. That's one of the commitments coming from their side. They're undertaking to be more forthcoming with details about these children's medical and psychological problems these kids have. That has not happened in the past. There's been some cover ups, and deception and kind of over-rosy pictures of these kids. So we'll see how it plays out. There still could be trouble. But on paper, at least, there's going to be a more diligent effort to be forthcoming.
NORRIS: Have you had a chance to check in with some of the agencies about what they think about these new regulations?
Mr. CRARY: I have. I have. I think they're cautiously pleased. And the main reason they're pleased is because they were very fearful that there would cut off of this whole bilateral adoption process. They really did not want to have that happen.
I think they're willing to put up some tighter oversight and some more sort of bureaucratic hoops in order to keep that pipeline going. I think it's a little too early to tell if there are specific wrinkles here that they won't like. But the initial reaction is one of relief and gratitude that this worked out.
NORRIS: David Crary is a reporter for the Associated Press. He was speaking to us about a new accord governing American adoptions of Russian children. Thank you very much.
Mr. CRARY: Thank you.
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