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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Duma Law Hits Adoption Agencies

The State Duma passed a long-awaited draft law on adoption Friday, a move that could delay thousands of foreign adoptions.

The legislation has caused confusion and resulted in a U.S. Embassy statement alerting Americans to what it termed a suspension in foreign adoptions starting Dec. 1, citing the Education Ministry as the initiator of the moratorium.

But a high-level ministry official vehemently denied Friday that international adoptions will be suspended.

"There is no such moratorium," said Maria Lazutova, the deputy minister in charge of national adoption. "Tell your embassy to get its facts straight."

The ministry is not trying to block international adoptions, Lazutova said, but to put out of business those agencies -- particularly American ones -- that are operating in Russia illegally.

Since regulations were eased in 1991, Americans have accounted for most adoptions of Russian children. The embassy processes an average of almost 150 adoptions a month.

"Our job is to work with the U.S. State Department to develop a mechanism to sort out the good agencies from the bad," said Lazutova, adding that she knew of several agencies that are operating in Russia with false licenses. The new law also calls for the Russian Federation to set up a procedure to accredit all foreign agencies before they can work here.

Lazutova would not name the blacklisted agencies, nor did the Education Ministry inform the U.S. Embassy.

The decision whether or not to approve an adoption is made by local administrators who authorize and then process all adoptions within a region. "All the territories know which agencies they may work with and which they should not," Lazutova said. "Those agencies operating properly with proper licenses will continue to work in Russia," said Lazutova.

But an amendment tacked on to the draft law passed by the Duma that forbids all activity by intermediaries may cripple some foreign agencies operating here.

A U.S. Embassy official expressed particular concern over this change Friday, adding that in a country as vast as Russia intermediaries are necessary to help locate children eligible for adoption.

However, many agencies that set up shop in Russia soon after the first Russian baby was adopted by an American family in 1991 have already established direct contacts with orphanages and officials in the provinces, thus reducing the need for intermediaries.

Another major change in the adoption law states that a Russian child may only be eligible for foreign adoption after a thorough search has been made throughout Russia. Only after the child has been rejected by a Russian family may orphanage directors pass on the child's data to foreign adoption agencies.

This clause supercedes the current regulation that permits foreign adoptions only when it is in the medical interests of the child, which was generally interpreted to limit adoptions to handicapped or seriously ill children.