Russia Furious After Adopted Boy Sent Back From U.S.
The Foreign Ministry threatened to suspend all child adoptions by U.S. families after a 7-year-old boy adopted by a Tennessee woman was sent alone on a one-way flight to Moscow with a note saying he was violent and had severe psychological problems.
The boy, Artyom Savelyev, was put on a plane by his adoptive grandmother, Nancy Hansen.
"He drew a picture of our house burning down and he'll tell anybody that he's going to burn our house down with us in it," Hansen said by telephone. "It got to be where you feared for your safety. It was terrible."
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called the actions by the grandmother "the last straw" in a string of U.S. adoptions gone wrong, including three in which Russian children have died in the United States since 2005.
President Dmitry Medvedev said the boy "fell into a very bad family."
"It is a monstrous deed on the part of his adoptive parents, to take the kid and virtually throw him out with the airplane in the opposite direction, and to say 'I'm sorry, I could not cope with it, take everything back' is not only immoral but also against the law," Medvedev said on U.S. ABC television.
Russia's main television channels ran extensive reports on the adoption in their main evening news shows on Friday.
The Education and Science Ministry immediately suspended the license of the group involved in the adoption — the World Association for Children and Parents, a Renton, Washington-based agency — for the duration of the investigation. In Tennessee, authorities were investigating the adoptive mother, Torry Hansen, a 33-year-old, unmarried nurse.
Any possible freeze could affect hundreds of American families. Last year, nearly 1,600 Russian children were adopted in the United States, and more than 60,000 Russian orphans have been successfully adopted there, according to the National Council For Adoption, a U.S. adoption advocacy nonprofit group.
"We're obviously very troubled by it," U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said in Washington when asked about the boy's case. He told reporters that the United States and Russia shared a responsibility for the child's safety and that Washington would work closely with Moscow to make sure adoptions are legal and appropriately monitored.
Asked if he thought a suspension by Russia was warranted, Crowley said, "If Russia does suspend cooperation on the adoption, that is its right. These are Russian citizens."
The boy arrived unaccompanied at Moscow's Domodedovo Airport on Thursday on a United Airlines flight fr om Washington.
The office of children's ombudsman Pavel Astakhov said the boy was carrying a letter from his adoptive mother saying she was returning him because of severe psychological problems.
"This child is mentally unstable. He is violent and has severe psychopathic issues," the letter said. "I was lied to and misled by the Russian orphanage workers and director regarding his mental stability and other issues. … After giving my best to this child, I am sorry to say that for the safety of my family, friends, and myself, I no longer wish to parent this child."
The boy was adopted in September from the town of Partizansk in the Far Eastern region of Primorye.
Nancy Hansen, the grandmother, said she and the boy flew to Washington and that she put the child on the plane with the note from her daughter. She vehemently rejected assertions of child abandonment by Russian authorities, saying he was watched over by a United Airlines stewardess and that the family paid a man $200 to pick up the boy at Domodedovo Airport and take him to the Education and Science Ministry.
Nancy Hansen said a social worker checked on the boy in January and reported to Russian authorities that there were no problems. But after that, the grandmother said, incidents of hitting, kicking and spitting, along with threats, began to escalate.
She said she and her daughter went to Russia together to adopt the boy, and she believes information about his behavioral problems was withheld from her daughter.
"The Russian orphanage officials completely lied to her because they wanted to get rid of him," Nancy Hansen said.
She said the boy was very skinny when they picked him up, and he told them that he had been beaten with a broom handle at the orphanage.
Joseph LaBarbera, a clinical psychologist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, said adoptive parents are many times not aware of the psychological state of children put up for adoption.
"Parents enter into it [foreign adoption] with positive motivations but, in a sense, they are a little bit blindsided by their desire to adopt," said LaBarbera, who specializes in the psychological evaluation of children and who has worked with a number of children adopted from Russia and other countries. "They're not prepared to appreciate, psychologically, the kinds of conditions these kids have been exposed to and the effect it has had on them."
State television showed the child in a yellow jacket holding the hands of two chaperones as he left a police precinct and entered a van bound for a Moscow medical clinic.
The U.S. ambassador to Russia, John Beyrle, said he was "deeply shocked by the news" and "very angry that any family would act so callously toward a child that they had legally adopted."
Anna Orlova, a spokeswoman for children's ombudsman Astakhov, said she visited the boy and he told her that his mother was "bad," "did not love him" and used to pull his hair.
Astakhov said in a televised interview that a treaty is vital to protect Russian citizens in other countries. "How can we prosecute a person who abused the rights of a Russian child abroad? If there was an adoption treaty in place, we would have legal means to protect Russian children abroad," he said.
Lavrov said his ministry would recommend that the United States and Russia hammer out an agreement before any new adoptions are allowed. "We have taken the decision … to suggest a freeze on any adoptions to American families until Russia and the U.S.A. sign an international agreement" on the conditions for adoptions, Lavrov said.
He said the United States had refused to negotiate such an accord in the past, but "the recent event was the last straw."
The boy turned up at the door of the Education and Science Ministry on Thursday afternoon accompanied by a Russian man who handed over the boy and his documents, then left, officials said. The child holds a Russian passport.
U.S. police said Torry Hansen was under investigation but it was not clear whether any laws had been broken.
Stephen Flanagan, senior vice president at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said the strong Russian reaction should not be a surprise.
"It's another sign of their incapacities at home, so when they see a former Russian citizen overseas mistreated or perceived to be mistreated it's something they try to use politically, but I can't see it leading to a rupture in U.S.-Russian relations," Flanagan said. "It's an unfortunate thing but it's in a different category."
Despite the Russian uproar over adoptions, placing children within Russia remains difficult. There are more than 740,000 children without parental custody in Russia, according to UNICEF, the United Nations Children's Fund.
United Airlines disavowed any responsibility and said it requires any parent or guardian dropping off a child for a flight to show a form of identification and to list who is picking up the child at the destination.
United spokeswoman Robin Urbanski said all unaccompanied minors on the flight that arrived Thursday in Moscow were picked up by the person listed on the form.
Julie Snyder, spokeswoman for the World Association for Children and Parents, which placed the boy with Torry Hansen, said the organization was lim ited to what it could say because of confidentiality restrictions. She said the group was working with authorities in the United States and Russia. "It's as shocking to us as to anybody else to hear about it," she said.
Previous adoption failures have increased Russian officials' wariness of adoptions by U.S. families.
In 2006, Peggy Sue Hilt of Manassas, Virginia, was sentenced to 25 years in prison after being convicted of the 2005 fatal beating a 2-year-old girl adopted from Siberia months earlier. In 2008, Kimberly Emelyantsev of Tooele, Utah, was sentenced to 15 years after pleading guilty to killing a Russian infant in her care.
And in March of this year, prosecutors in Pennsylvania met with Russian diplomats to discuss how to handle the case of a couple accused of killing their 7-year-old adopted Russian son at their home near the Pennsylvania town of Dillsburg.