Russia, June 19, 1999
Aren't those Russia kids so cute!Every time I catch a flight outta Russia, I am amazed at the number of screaming babies I share the flight with. KLM even has a waiting list for the baby carriages on its 16:30 Moscow-Amsterdam flight because so many infants are in line to leave. What are there all these kids taking transatlantic flights (and screaming in my ears) do you ask? Adoptions! That's why!
In 1998, Americans alone adopted 4,500 kids from Russia, (look here for USA State Department Figures)and that works out to twelve kids a day, all of which seem to take the same flights I do. Actually, I noticed that KLM had more babies than Lufthansa. Maybe because their service is so good, maybe because the flight time from Moscow is convenient, but I really think its because KLM's USA sister airline is Northwest, serving America's heartland and its Nebraskan populace.
See there is a very logical explanation why Russia is so popular with childless American families. Its not the cost, for Russian adoptions are as expensive (around $10,000 I've heard) as other children. Its not the ease of adoptions, for visas, bribes, and logistics (Where is Tomsk-42 again, honey?), make anything in Russia, including adoptions, a lesson in patience. And its not the ease of the transitional process, for Russian orphans are usually underdeveloped, unresponsive, and often in need of intensive counseling and medicine. The main reason, I think, is that these kids, unlike the majority of US orphans up for adoption, are just that, young (under three years old) kids. Oh yeah, and their "white."
Smile Theresa, er Tatiana!
The sick and twisted truth to the matter is that while there are thousands of American children wandering through the American adoption/foster care system, and countless South American, Southeast Asian, and African kids looking for someone to call "Mom", those who can afford to adopt kids, tend to be middle-class white Americans who want someone who looks just like them and who is young enough not to come with anyone else's parental imprint already included. Russian kids fit the bill. The majority of Russians are "white Europeans" (or close enough to pass off as one) and with the state of contraceptive usage in Russia (close to nil), pregnancy happens quite a bit.
As you can tell, I get a bit cynical about the whole situation when all these parents tell me that they are "just trying to share all their love" as they turn Dmitry from Kirov into Danny from Columbus, but wouldn't take in Dmitrius from Compton. Yes, I know its hard to adopt in the USA, but why not try to change the system in the USA (I hear soccer mom's have all this electoral clout...) and take care of our own first?
I don't say this to the proud parents though, it's too late to snap them outta their little reality as they board the plane, but I'm not the only one who shares this concern.
Before the August crisis, the Russian Parliament, alarmed by the slow depopulation of Russia from the combination of a low birthrate, the mass migration of single women in the arms of foreign husbands, and amazing increase in foreigner adoptions (the 4,500 figure only includes USA adoptions, add in the Europeans!), was trying to legislate the only part of that equation it had any real control over, adoptions by foreigners. There was an amazing article on the subject in the Moscow Times last winter, and I am surprised I can't find it in my files (If any of you have access the MT Archives, would you be so kind as to send it to me, please).
Every Russian kid should know these two on sight!
The Parliament was considering making the rules for adoption quite tough, with strong support, but it was running in to a lot of opposition from various sources. The Russian Nationalists support strengthening the laws on the grounds of national identity and sovereignty. If little Dmitry grows up as Danny, he will never understand his true Russian roots (Russian's belive that once a Russian, always a Russian, even if only there from zero to six months). The military supported the ban on the basis of national security. If Dmitry leaves, there will be one less Russian able to defend the homeland from the slow creep of the Chinese in the East, or the speedy Armies of the West. The orphanage directors supported the bills, because with fewer kids, they would have less money to steal for their dachas in Sochi.
Sept 99 Side Note: I just spent a few weeks with aid organizations delivering foodstuffs to Siberian orphanages, and I've never seen such nice Directors' offices and shiny Directors' BMW's as the ones in charge of the scariest orphanages. Where do you think all those "agency fees" go?
The adoption agencies, the foreign adopters, and oddly, the young ladies who put their children up for adoption all came out in protest of the laws. The adoption agencies didn't like the idea of loosing their supplies, naturally, but they did have a solid argument when it comes to the fate of the un-adopted children in Russia. The agencies, would-be parents, and pregnant mothers are all against the children entering the Russian orphanage system. It is such a national disgrace, that even I have to avert my eyes from the scene.
So, even though Russia is loosing its children at an alarming rate, to be brought up clueless as to what it means to be Russian, the alternative, the Russian orphanage system, is so inhumane, that not even I, in my most cynical frame of mind, will ever do anything more to stop the crying on the KLM flights, than to bring earplugs.
September 1, 1999
Thoughts about Russian Adoptions
By Diana Gruber
I am writing in response to your web page, Random Russia Experiences - Adoptions
I'm one of those middle-class white Americans you wrote about that endured the Russian bureaucracy and spent a good chunk of my retirement money to bring home a healthy white baby. As you point out, there are needy babies closer to home, some of the brown, who I could have adopted for less money.
You were a bit hard on me, I think.
Sure, there are mothers I know who take in children of color. There are those who adopt babies with Down's Syndrome or AIDs. Some adopt babies from South America, and others adopt older children by the handfull. These mothers are all unsung heros. They are probably better people than I am. I, after all, only took on what I thought I could handle.
Sure, I could have learned to love a brown baby. I could have learned all the politically correct procedures for a successfully building a mixed-race family. Sure, I could have endured sharing an open adoption with a drug-addicted birth mother. I could have endured it, but I am not the only one involved. Others deserve consideration too. I have an older son, who expects continued stability in his home life. I have a husband, who is kind and patient, but already gives so much for his family. I have colleagues who expect excellence in my work. I have relatives, I have a community, I have bills, and I have responsibilities. Taking all this into consideration, I chose to take on a smaller burden than some of the other adoptive mothers.
What I believed I could handle was one small, barely-damaged orphan who looks like me. Do I deserve scorn because my act of kindness was not as noble as that of some others I know? Am I the selfish one? I don't feel selfish. When I change diapers by the dozen, or sit up all night with a teething toddler, or sew curtains, or kiss boo-boos, or dispense vitamins, or watch Barney by the hour, I feel like I am doing something good for another person. I am building a better human being. I am giving a part of my life for the life of another. This is not an act of selfishness.
Oh, how I envy you. Travelling around Russia, visiting marvelous cities, meeting wonderful people, taking pictures and making web pages. Don't you think I would love to do that? But I have people who depend on me. I have to stay here and give all I can to my family, my job, and my community. Somebody has to be the mother, and for now that role has fallen to me.
And there is a lot I can give my little Russian princess. Things like vaccinations, a pet turtle, a Nintendo, a prom dress and a college education. But perhaps you think she should not be a princess? Perhaps you think she should stay in a Russian orphanage so I can give these things to a more deserving brown child?
But that is not how it works. Adoption is not unambiguous. There are plenty of what-if's and should-have-been's. But at the heart of it, I am still doing a good deed. Perhaps by some measures my sacrifices are small. But they are sacrifices nonetheless. I have given a part of my life for the good of another person, and that deserves acknowledgement. Not gratitude or honors, just acknowledgement that I am not greedy or selfish or bigotted. I am simply a person doing the best I can with the resources I have and in the situation in which I find myself. And I am trying to do something good in my life that will last beyond my life.
So lighten up on us adoptive mothers, will you? Surely there must be better targets for your scorn than us.
How come you are the only person (with the exception of one) talking about these issues with Russian adoption? Hey I am cynical too. And yes, we are adopting a child from Russia.
Multiply the 4,500 number of Americans adopting from Russia by the roughly $10,000 in CASH (crisp, $100 bills) that the families have to travel with and you will come up with: $4.5 million. Where is this money going? Some adoptive parents really believe that this cash is going to 'help' the kids in the orphanage! We don't. We believe the cash being brought in is going in some offical's pocket, or some mob person's pocket.
Make no mistake (and you haven't): adoption in the US is a HUGE business, whether it be from China, Korea, Vietnam, Guatamala, Brazil, Panama or Russia. Let me give you a rundown of the expenses on this side of the Atlantic (and Pacific): INS: $455 Homestudy: $850 - $2,500 Certification for dossier: $150 Apostilling for dossier: $200 Passports for two: $140 agency fees so far: $3,000. Don't forget the Business Visas we will need once we travel: $350. This process is not cheap and it is not easy. People doing this have really got to want to do this.
And the adoption agencies (some of them) give a hard sell. They do the 'horse and cart' shows of 'here is little Russian/Chinese/Vietnemese Princess who did so well once we brought her home.' Their literature is filled with happy little girls (little girls are HOT. Americans WANT little girls) dressed in American clothes and stories of how fast the children were brought home.
Check out some of the agencies sites. You'll know what I am talking about. Go to www.adopting.com and go from there. They have links for agencies, facilitators and attorneys.
Unlike many others adopting children, make no mistake: we are not rushing to Russia (bad pun) to get our 'prince' or our little darling boy. We are attempting to give a child an opportunity; we are not 'saving' anybody. Truly, I don't have visions of happy Slavic boy dancing around our house singing songs about the narod or his rodina. Instead, we think about the reality of raising a child who may turn out to be totally whacked out. Parenthood is work; I will not need a 'Mother Heroine' award for raising little Misha, Sasha or Dima. Nobody is a saint for adopting; nor are we adopting saints.
Also be aware that, according to a NY Times article published in Oct. 1998, the price of domestic WHITE adoption can cost anywhere from $20,000 to $50,000. Hey, if the kid is Aryan enough, let's put a price tag on it! It'll sell just fine (and people WILL pay the money). Okay. I am cynical.
Thank you for giving me the Russian viewpoint of adoption. We know that it isn't rosy. We also know that $$ talks and if it's white, it sells.
January 9, 1999, From AP via Johnson's Russia List (Note: this isn't the article I'm looking for)
Russia Beckons Childless Americans
By Nick Wadhams
MOSCOW -- Americans Tim and Beth Milbrath had just returned to Moscow from the cold, windswept expanses of central Siberia, exhausted and dazed, but jubilant. Their 10-month quest was over, and the reward was in her arms, dressed in blue pajamas and little booties, crying for more apple juice. With 14-month-old Daniel, the Milbraths joined the growing number of families that have made Russia the most popular country in the world for Americans adopting foreign children. Milbrath, an Air Force colonel, said that by adopting they felt they could change the life of one child and give him the opportunity to succeed.
Think how fast he could be if he just had Nikes!
American and western European couples have turned to Russia since the Soviet breakup because it has a growing number of unwanted children and has been relatively open to adoptions by foreigners. Americans adopted more than 3,800 babies from Russia in 1997, the State Department says. Some American families have reported problems, delays and corruption on the Russian side.
And there have been a few isolated, but sensational cases of children allegedly being mistreated by their American adoptive parents. In response, Russia's parliament proposed legislation last year to make adoptions by foreigners much more difficult, but the final version has not hampered the process, adoption agencies say.
Russian families rarely adopt, and given the country's economic straits, far more children are put up for adoption than are taken in. Russia now has over 600,000 orphans, many of whom are underdeveloped and receive relatively little attention in state homes. Some have physical and mental disabilities. 'The caregivers really did love these children,' said Mrs. Milbrath, a lawyer. 'But it isn't like they're in a family. They don't have the care and the constant love that a family gives.'
The Milbraths, a Maryland couple in their mid-40s who already had one son and one daughter, wanted to adopt a young, healthy boy. They found Kirill in the central Siberian city of Tomsk. He was healthy, but about six months behind in development. Kirill, now called Daniel, had rarely, if ever, been outside his orphanage. His new parents said he would be thrown into American life.
'I just know he's got to be at a soccer game on Saturday morning at 9 o'clock,' his father joked.
Business Week, July 26, 1999
Spotlight on Moscow: A Brisk Market in Babies...Sparks Action for Reform
By Margaret Coker in Moscow
The blonde, 22-year-old single mother felt she had only one option: Pregnant again, with few job prospects in her village in the Republic of Moldova and with no child care available in any case for her four children, she answered a newspaper ad promising a trip to Israel and cold cash in exchange for her unborn child. 'I needed to feed my other kids. I was told he would be given to a good family, and that seemed better than a life in an orphanage,' says the woman--currently serving two years in prison for trafficking a minor.
A black-market baby trade is flourishing in Russia and the former Soviet states, which use Moscow, with its international flights, as a transfer point to fly out expectant mothers. Investigators say the Moldova ring this woman fell into has sold at least 50 babies to American and Israeli families in the past two years, while a separate Moscow ring has sold 20 babies to American families, with each sale netting $20,000 to $30,000 per infant. These numbers, however, are dwarfed by the number of legal adoptions: Last year, U.S. citizens alone adopted some 4,500 Russian children.
Still, illegal trafficking is a large enough business to have prompted an investigation at the U.S. Consulate in Moscow about how these pregnant women got to the U.S. and to have instigated Moscow's first prosecution. 'People have turned a blind eye to this trade for years. Now, some feel the tide must be stopped,' says Kiril Mazurin of the Moscow Criminal Investigation Dept.
The number of orphans living in Russia climbed to 482,000 in 1998, the highest level since World War II, while money to care for them has shrunk to 30 cents per child per day. Bad as these institutions can be, however, life beyond can be worse. Authorities report that 40% of the youths who leave such institutions at 18 end up homeless, 25% acquire criminal records, and 10% commit suicide.
Yet legal adoption is neither easy nor cheap. According to Russian law, the process should take about five months and should be free to citizens and foreigners alike. Reality, though, is much more complex. 'If you want your child before he's an adult, everyone knows payments must be made [to local officials]--not once, but multiple times,' says one Moscow representative of an international adoption agency. Fees to a licensed Western adoption agency, plus the expenses of traveling to Russia to meet a child, slicing through bureaucracy, and speeding legal proceedings, can reach $40,000.
Just grab one, Honey!
If baby trafficking endangers the welfare of the child sold, it also harms children in institutions. The State Duma Committee on Women, Family & Youth Affairs is responsible for securing budget funds for orphans and programs targeting single mothers and needy children. Critics of the chairwoman, Communist Party Deputy Aleftina V. Aparina, say international adoption is her target of choice to whip up anti-American sentiment and raise her profile within the party. 'She spends an inordinate amount of time on this issue while ignoring our efforts to expand programs,' says Alexander Smuckler, a political lobbyist.
While the prosecution of the Moscow smuggling ring has been applauded by human-rights workers--those arrested included an ex- spokesman for the Duma International Affairs Committee--it's unclear how deep a dent the one case can make. A source at the Moscow investigators' office concedes that pressure brought to bear from U.S. authorities eager to stop the visa fraud perpetrated by the ring was instrumental in bringing about the arrest--and that conviction is still not certain. The publicity has fed the political backlash, including restrictive laws, against foreign adoptions in general, making U.S. officials wary. 'We don't want to hurt kids,' says one.
A long-term solution would be to develop national foster-care programs like those implemented by Konstantin Titov, the governor of Russia's Samara region. At the end of 1997, only 239 foster families existed in Russia. In one year alone, Titov signed up more than 500 families in his program--and saved about $5 million in budget funds.
Titov is rumored to be considering a run for President of Russia in 2000. If he wins, child-welfare officials hope change will come in time to save a half-million Russian orphans from a grim future.