Last week, another American woman, Peggy Sue Hilt, was arrested and charged with the murder of a 2-year-old girl she had adopted in Russia. The autopsy showed the child died after being hit in the stomach.
Both incidents have received huge media coverage in Russia, where they have provoked a debate over possible reforms of the adoption process for foreigners. About 15,000 Russian children are adopted by foreigners every year, half of them by American families.
This week, the Education and Science Ministry -- which oversees adoptions -- aired proposals that would make foreigners wanting to adopt Russian children undergo compulsory psychological tests for emotional stability. The ministry also suggested introducing special parenting classes.
Ivan Yantsukevich is an adviser to the director of the ministry’s department of youth policy, education, and the social protection of children, which drafted the proposals.
He told RFE/RL the proposed changes could be useful in detecting foreign adoption candidates who are unfit to care for children.
“The aim of these changes is to prevent such tragedies from happening again," Yantsukevich said. "The changes should ensure that a family with mentally disturbed members is not even able to lay claim to adopting a child. Our task right now is to determine exactly what changes are needed to do so.”
The ministry says it is also eager to curb illegal adoptions. It proposed outlawing adoptions organized by groups or intermediaries not accredited with the Russian government.
Last month, Russian authorities suspended accreditation for three U.S.-based adoption agencies, saying they had failed to monitor the children after their adoption.
But the two recent murders have also highlighted how much more can be done to encourage Russians to adopt orphans.
Some officials have put the number of orphans in Russia at a staggering 2 million. But Russian families rarely adopt because of the social stigma, or simply because they cannot afford more than one child.
“The department is now trying to draw the attention of the Russian public, of potential Russian adopters, to the problem of orphaned children and to inform Russian citizens about adoption," Yantsukevich said. "This doesn’t mean we are trying to reject international adoption.”
As part of this effort, the Education and Science Ministry recently launched an adoption website (http://www.usynovite.ru) to guide prospective Russian parents through the adoption process.
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