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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Adopting a New Attitude

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Can orphans be exploited for political gain? You bet they can. In fact, it's a sure thing. The champions of orphans score political points while those who abuse them are regarded as evil incarnate. The main task of the champions, therefore, is to "name and shame" the offenders. Preferably during prime time.

The orphans themselves tend to get lost in the shuffle, particularly when patriotism gets involved.

Foreigners, specifically foreign adoption agencies operating in this country, have been blamed for all the problems of Russia's orphans in recent months. A few days ago, a number of agencies were denied new accreditation. A week before, these agencies were doing business as usual. Suddenly, as if on cue, prosecutors discovered scores of violations, including operating with expired accreditation, doing business with unauthorized Russian middlemen and failing to monitor adopted children abroad. No smoking guns were discovered, mind you, but that hardly mattered. The campaign had begun.

This is what rankles -- it's a politically motivated campaign that began in earnest back in April when a suburban Chicago woman, Irma Pavlis, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in the beating death of her 6-year-old son just weeks after she and her husband had adopted him from Russia. Playing on this high-profile case, certain politicians who consider themselves patriots declared, in effect, that the Americans were murdering our children. They were not able to whip up a general frenzy, thank goodness, but they did turn the Pavlis case into a political issue.

For the organizers of this campaign, it made no difference that the Pavlis case was an exception, that it generated a huge public outcry in the United States or that Pavlis was sentenced to 12 years in prison. In the period from 1990 to 2004, Americans alone adopted some 60,000 Russian orphans, yet only a dozen tragedies such as the Pavlis case are known to have occurred. For all the horror of each individual case, this tiny percentage suggests that the system is actually working quite well.

There are currently some 125,000 orphans in Russia. Would a total ban on "selling our children abroad," which some opponents of foreign adoption have called for, benefit these children? Can a propaganda campaign make adoption in Russia as popular and widespread as it is in the United States, with its strong tradition of missionary work? Can such a political campaign bring an end to the endemic corruption in our orphanages? It's well known, for example, that adoptive parents pay an average per child of $10,000 to $15,000 in bribes to Russian officials. The answer to all these questions is no.

But another approach is possible, one that is far nobler. We simply have to rise above politics and do what's best for the children. Rather than focusing exclusively on the tragedies, we should be telling the stories of Russian orphans who have found good homes abroad, and of children who have been cured of illnesses that were considered untreatable in Russia. In other words, we should be telling the stories of children in loving families who are enjoying new lives they couldn't even have imagined while they were stuck in orphanages back in their homeland. We have to remember that, however much we might resent it, the overwhelming majority of adopted Russian children are better off with their new families abroad. Such success stories might not be advantageous in the context of domestic politics, but surely political gain is insignificant when compared to a child's happiness.

And stories of successful adoptions like these are far more likely to encourage Russians to become adoptive parents than the campaign of hate that has been waged over the airwaves these past few months. The truth of the matter seems painfully obvious: We can do far more to improve the lives of our orphans by focusing on the positive than we ever could by dwelling exclusively on the negative.

Georgy Bovt is editor of Profil.