Just as the new year began, Russia banned American citizens from adopting its orphaned children. The adoption ban was a tit-for-tat, politically motivated move in response to the Magnitsky Act, a new U.S. law that imposes sanctions for human rights abuses in Russia. It meant instant heartbreak for hundreds of Russian orphans and the American families currently in the process of adopting them. U.S. families adopted more Russian children than any other country, about 60,000 since the late 1990s.
Russia’s adoption ban puts a further dent in the number of international adoptions overall in the United States. Since 1999, Americans have adopted more than 233,934 children, mostly from China, Ethiopia and Russia – an average of 17,995 children per year. International adoption reached a high in 2004, when 22,991 adoptions were processed. The numbers have fallen precipitously since then. In 2011, only 9,319 children found new homes with American families. Worldwide, adoptions of children from another country have also fallen after reaching highs in the last decade.
The drop in adoptions is the result of tighter restrictions in countries such as China and South Korea. China, for example, imposed a host of regulations in 2006, including barring adoptions by prospective parents who are obese, disfigured or on antidepressant medication.
The State Department has also stopped processing adoptions from several countries, including Guatemala, Vietnam and Cambodia, where there were allegations of fraud, corruption and baby-selling.
For all the children who are adopted worldwide, the spotlight shines most brightly on the outlier cases. High-profile celebrities, including Angelina Jolie and Madonna, have adopted children from overseas. There was also the controversial case of 7-year-old Artem Saveliev. Citing his violent behavior, his adoptive American mother, Torry Hansen of Shelbyville, Tenn., sent him back to Moscow, alone.
Christiane speaks about international adoption with Ambassador Susan Jacobs. She’s the Special Advisor to the Secretary for Children’s Issues at the State Department.