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Russia: Preparing For The 'Year Of The Family'

These twins in Khakassia are getting more attention from the state (ITAR-TASS) July 13, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Addressing the Federal Assembly in May 2006, Russian President Vladimir Putin noted that "In my opinion, foreigners adopt more children than we do in our country."

To remedy the situation, he proposed a number of reforms aimed at increasing the number of adoptions of Russian children, by Russians.

Among his suggestions were to double financial assistance for families who adopt to 4,000 rubles ($157) per month, to increase salaries to foster parents from 1,000 to 1,500 to 2,500 rubles per month, and to provide lump-sum payments of 8,000 rubles upon the adoption of a child.

During his address to the nation in April 2007, he expanded on his proposals, listing a number of additional initiatives designed to make 2008 the "Year of the Family."

Addressing Larger Issues

The presidential suggestions were in keeping with broader efforts to address Russia's demographic crisis.

They also appealed to nationalist sentiments that were aroused after the death of a Russian orphan adopted by a family in the United States. That case, and 12 other deaths of Russian orphans at the hands of their new, American parents since 1993, fueled a movement against "selling our children abroad."

Orphans in Russia

* 760,000 orphans

*140,000 eligible for adoption

*1.5 million considered "homeless"

(Russian Education Ministry)

As early as June 2005, at the height of the uproar over the deaths of the Russian orphans in the United States, Russia's Foreign Ministry commented that "There is no reason to object to the adoptions of Russian children by foreign citizens, least of all in instances where no adopters can be found in our country."

But it also said procedures for adoption "must be legally impeccable and transparent, while the adoption mechanism must be clear, and there must be effective control."

It also said it would seek bilateral agreements with those countries that adopt the most Russian children - the United States, Canada, Italy, and Spain.

Various recent proposals and tweaks to legislation largely reflect the Foreign Ministry's approach.

In May 2006, the head of the Education and Science Ministry's department of youth policy, Sergei Apatenko, vowed that the adoption of orphans through independent agencies would be banned by the end of that year.

Noting that there were no fewer examples of abuse of adopted orphans within Russia than those abroad, he said it was "necessary to tighten the control of not only foreign, but also Russian agencies."

The moratorium never officially went into effect, but by April 2007, all of the 89 foreign adoption agencies that had been working in the country had been denied re-registration.

In July, seven U.S.-based agencies were re-accredited, according to "The Moscow Times," but it was unclear if agencies from other countries had also regained legal status.

Legal Hurdles

Previous laws that made it difficult for some Russian families to adopt have also been addressed, notably amendments to the Family Code passed in 1998 that prohibited adoptions by low-income families.

In March 2007, the Presidential Council for Implementing Priority National Projects and Demographic Policy adopted measures to help support families with children, allocating 6 billion rubles from the federal budget for the cause.

U.S. Adoptions

* 4,639 Russian children adopted in 2005

* 3,706 adopted in 2006 (10-year low)

* Overall adoptions in U.S. dropped from 22,728 in 2005 to 20,679 in 2006

(U.S. Department of State)

It predicted that in 2008, no fewer than 80,000 orphans would be placed in homes, adding that while the regions must decide on the amounts paid to foster families, that amount should be no lower than 4,000 rubles per month.

Many of the federal subjects have taken their own, unique approaches to the issue.

Leningrad Oblast raised the bar significantly when it passed a law in January that raised the amount paid to foster families to 15,000 rubles, the highest in the nation, according to "Vesti."

Kaluga Oblast, meanwhile, has vowed to hold the central government to its rarely observed promise to orphans of placement in their chosen educational institution through university level.

Moscow, for its part, saw 226 children adopted in 2006, up from under 50 just three years earlier.

Overall, the efforts have seen results. For the first time since 2002, Deputy Prosecutor-General Sergei Fridinsky said in June, more Russians adopted children in 2006 than foreigners -- 7,742 by Russians and 6,689 by foreigners, according to the "Christian Science Monitor."

And more changes are in store. Russia's Public Chamber, a consultative group set up to monitor the work of parliament and federal and regional bodies, has recently been actively involved in coming up with new initiatives to deal with the problems of orphans and homeless children.

Moral And Financial Protection

In June, the chamber called for new approaches in revamping the state-run orphanage system. "Each child in our country, regardless of whether or not he or she is brought up in a family or children's home, should have moral and financial protection," it said in a document quoted by ITAR-TASS.

Sad State

* 40 percent of Russia's orphanages need repairs

* 6 percent lack indoor plumbing

* 5 percent lack central heating

(source: report by deputy prosecutor-general)

Among its suggestions were incentives for adoptive parents, including subsidies, protection from the potentially harmful influence of mass media, as well as from predators that seek to exploit children for pornography and begging.

Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev, for his part, has announced the role of police helping to solve the problem by allowing orphans to use police gymnasiums free of charge.

The same month, Health and Social Development Minister Mikhail Zurabov stressed the need to better define the legal status of families who want to take in orphans. The fact that many Russian orphans still have living parents makes it difficult for them to be legally adopted.

"I think that it is desirable to draft a range of normative acts this year in order to settle all issues regarding fostering, clearly defining legal features of each type of family," ITAR-TASS quoted him as saying. "At present, there are no clear-cut definitions and the classification of families [whether adoptive or foster], who adopt a child."

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