Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The Politics of Adoption

To Our Readers

The Moscow Times welcomes letters to the editor. Letters for publication should be signed and bear the signatory's address and telephone number.
Letters to the editor should be sent by fax to (7-495) 232-6529, by e-mail to, or by post. The Moscow Times reserves the right to edit letters.

Email the Opinion Page Editor

Whenever something bad happens to a Russian child who was adopted by parents from the United States, Russian television is bound to show it as the leading story. These media reports, however, rarely dig below the surface to find out what motivated foreigners to adopt these children in the first place and to explain why these adoptions ended so tragically.

In place of objective reporting, the Russian media are quick to pass judgment on the adoptive parents, leading viewers to conclude that Americans adopt Russian children to abuse them -- and, in extreme cases, to kill them. After each incident, lawmakers toughen procedures for foreign adoptions and sometimes call for their outright prohibition.

The recent story of the Emelyantsev family from Utah is a typical example. The mother, Kimberly, is from the United States, and the father, Fyodor, is a Russian citizen. Their 14-month-old adopted Russian boy died on March 7. An autopsy determined that the child had died from a skull fracture that doctors said was the result of blunt-force trauma. Both parents were arrested, and Kimberly Emelyantsev was charged with first-degree murder.

The boy was one of three Russian children the family had adopted in addition to the two children they already had. Two of the adopted children suffered from serious illnesses, and the Emelyantsevs knowingly took them in. The boy who died had suffered from Down syndrome. The medical aspect of the Emelyantsev case is important, because it is nearly impossible for foreigners to adopt healthy Russian orphans. Instead, they adopt mostly handicapped children or those with serious hereditary illnesses.

After the Emelyantsev case was widely publicized, the public received another dose of anti-Americanism. In reality, such incidents in the United States occur in only one of every 15,000 adoption cases. U.S. and Canadian parents adopted around 15,000 Russian children in recent years, and there were 14 to 16 known deaths among all adopted children over the last 10 years. Two years ago, following a similar tragedy involving a Russian child adopted by American parents, U.S. authorities tried to organize a media tour to show how adopted children from Russia were faring in their new country and how the system for monitoring their living conditions was functioning. They invited a few members of the State Duma and the Federation Council, but there were no takers.

Russian laws governing adoptions by foreigners have gotten stricter in recent years. Even accredited adoption agencies are finding it difficult to manage -- primarily because of the pervasive corruption among bureaucrats. Only in the last two years has the number of Russians adopting children -- 7,000 -- exceeded that of foreigners adopting Russian children -- 6,000.

The Education and Science Ministry is now demanding tougher rules for overseas adoptive parents, suggesting that they be obligated to register with the state's orphan database, undergo psychological testing and take a preparatory course for bringing adopted children into the home.

Such measures are worthwhile, but if we are so concerned about the fate of Russian children adopted by foreigners, why do we remain silent about the children adopted by Russians? There are no statistics available on domestic abuse cases of adopted children. We know only that 2,500 Russian children die at their parents' hands every year, according to Interior Ministry statistics. We don't know how many of those children were adopted because the country has no system for monitoring the progress of adopted children. But we do know that 1 million adoptive parents were deprived of their adoption rights because of child abuse. Another 2,500 families changed their minds and sent the children they had adopted back to the orphanages.

Unfortunately, you rarely see these stories on Russian television. Is it really more important for us to show that Americans are worse than Russians?

Georgy Bovt is a political analyst and hosts a radio program on City-FM.