Russia's Latest Attempt to Restrict International Adoptions

Russian orphanages which remain little changed from Soviet times. Photograph: Gideon Mendel/Corbis

Russian orphanages which remain little changed from Soviet times. Photograph: Gideon Mendel/Corbis

Russia has hardly been the poster child of international adoption advocacy lately. It ceased adopting children out to the United States in early 2013, after having adopted out more than 50,000 children to American families since 1991.1 More recently than that, it banned adoption by same-sex couples.2

Pursuant to its latest bizarre policy stance, Russian officials are proposing banning adoptions to countries where it is legal to administer life-terminating treatment to children with terminal illness. As of February, Belgium is the first country in the world to allow this practice – the law states that the terminally ill child would have to face “unbearable physical suffering,” and make repeated requests to die, a decision that must be agreed upon by parents, doctors and psychiatrists.3

Russia should not be restricting its adoption program any more than it already has. In 2011, Michael Schwirtz reported that due to post-collapse social upheaval in Russia, there were more orphans in Russia than at the end of World War II. He noted that these children “languish in Russian orphanages,” where, with few Russian families willing to adopt, large government subsidies keep the orphanage system entrenched. In 2013, a video was released showing staff at an Amur orphanage torturing the children.

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(The video has since been taken down).

It is incumbent upon countries to seize every opportunity to create a system where their children can thrive. In many cases this means creating a functional international adoption system so that children may grow up in a family rather than an institution or on the streets. The more bans countries put in place on international adoption, the more we allow children to suffer abuse, malnourishment, and sickness.

Millions more children will die this year because of the brutal reality of orphanhood than due to legalized euthanasia.4 I can only hope Russia’s proposal doesn’t become law.

1 “Pact on Adoptions Ends a US-Russian Dispute,” by Michael Schwirtz, New York Times July 13, 2011
3 “Belgium’s Parliament Votes Through Child Euthanasia,” BBC News Europe, February 13, 2014, available at

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4 I have estimated previously that approximately four million orphans die in the developing world every year. In 2012, there were 1,432 Belgium citizens who elected to receive life-terminating treatment.

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