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U.S. Senator: Russia Stalling On Adoption, Children's Rights Ombudsman An 'Ass'

U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu presenting new adoption-related legislation in Washington, D.C. on September 19.
U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu presenting new adoption-related legislation in Washington, D.C. on September 19.
By Richard Solash
WASHINGTON -- One of the U.S. Congress's leading adoption advocates says negotiations with Russia over its politically charged ban on U.S. adoptions have "stalled."

Senator Mary Landrieu, a Democrat representing the state of Louisiana, says the U.S. government is "still working in diplomatic channels to try to open up opportunities for children in Russia who need families." But she expressed little hope that the ban would be overturned.

"Russia is doing a great disservice to itself by raising children in institutions, Landrieu told RFE/RL in an interview. "Every doctor knows how harmful institutional care is to children. It affects their emotional, mental, and physical development." 

"What I really want to say to the people of Russia is, 'Get your kids out of institutions and get them back into the loving arms of parents, relatives, or families that will love them and care for them.'"

Russia's wholesale ban on U.S. adoptions came into effect on January 1, 2013. The measure, which was fast-tracked through the country's parliament, was a response to U.S. sanctions against Russian officials implicated in human rights abuses including the death, in pretrial detention, of whistle-blowing lawyer Sergei Magnitsky.

Russian officials also said their goal was to safeguard Russian children from abuse at the hands of American adoptive parents. The ban was unofficially named the "Dima Yakovlev law" after a 2-year-old Russian adoptee who died in the United States when his adoptive father left him locked in a hot car for hours.

READ MORE: Looking At The Numbers, U.S. Adoption Is Safe

Landrieu says Russian officials are wrong to assert that abuse of adopted children goes unpunished in the United States. The facts, she adds, "do not support" Russian claims that such abuse is rampant.

"What the facts do show, and what the numbers do show, is that at times -- tragically, tragically -- there is abuse of adopted children," she says. "But there's no effort under way in America to abuse Russian adoptees. And so the government of Russia has overreacted. I think the people of Russia know that."

[Children's rights ombudsman Pavel Astakhov] doesn't want to know the truth... He's an ass!
The adoption ban has been condemned by U.S. officials and children's rights activists around the world, who accuse Moscow of turning its more than 700,000 orphans into political pawns. Since 1992, U.S. families have adopted around 60,000 Russian children, including many with disabilities.

Landrieu also reserved some choice words for Russia's children's rights ombudsman, Pavel Astakhov, who initiated the ban.

Astakhov met with U.S. State Department officials in Washington in June 2013 for one of several rounds of negotiations aimed at making progress on adoptions. He denied requests from Landrieu and other U.S. lawmakers to meet during his trip. 

"He doesn't want to hear the truth," the senator says. "He's an ass. You can write that: He's an ass!"

Several hundred families, including some in Landrieu's home state, were in the process of adopting from Russia when the ban took effect. While some final-stage adoptions went through, hundreds of Russian children -- some of whom had already met their would-be adoptive parents -- were forced to remain in Russia.

READ MORE: 'What Would Have Happened If That Child Had Stayed Here?'

In the wake of the ban, Moscow has taken steps it says will promote internal adoption, including increasing allowances to adoptive families.

Landrieu spoke to RFE/RL after introducing new adoption-related legislation at a September 19 press conference in Washington, D.C.  

Her Children in Families First Act seeks to reallocate some existing international assistance funding for children "so that it will do more to support family preservation, family reunification, and family creation."

If passed by Congress, the legislation would create a hub within the State Department for international child welfare issues and streamline the foreign adoption process for U.S. families.

Landrieu says the bill was not directly influenced by the recent troubles with Russia, but should help demonstrate the commitment of U.S. lawmakers to help vulnerable children abroad.

"I don't know if Russia is serious or not," she says. "But I know the United States is very upset -- both our people and the government are upset about this [ban] -- and we want to continue to try to work and move forward."

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