Beth Hostetler of Hesston knows the challenges of adopting a Russian child.
Fourteen years ago, Hostetler and her husband, Keith, spent thousands of dollars on an on-again, off-again 18-month ordeal to adopt their son, Alex. They endured delays and rule changes before slipping their son under the wire before their adoption paperwork expired.
So Hostetler wasn’t surprised when Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law Friday banning Americans from adopting Russian children – stranding 52 children preparing to join new families – in response to a U.S. law targeting Russians deemed human rights violators.
“It’s very sad,” Hostetler said. “The only people hurt here are the children. They can’t take care of their own, so now they want to penalize those who can.”
It was never easy to adopt a Russian child, Hostetler said.
They originally selected their son by video, but then Putin tweaked the law, requiring that Keith Hostetler make an extra trip to Russia to physically select Alex from an orphanage.
And there were endless delays over the 18 months, canceled flights and money lost to clothing bought for a little boy who grew as the Hostetlers worked to complete the adoption.
“They’ve always made it difficult,” Beth Hostetler said. “Finally, we had to go to court in Russia two days before our paperwork ran out. If everything hadn’t just fallen into place, we would have lost Alex and everything from those 18 months.”
Although some top Russian officials – including the foreign minister – openly opposed the bill, Putin signed it less than 24 hours after receiving it from Parliament, where it passed both houses overwhelmingly.
The law takes effect Jan. 1, the Kremlin said. Children’s rights ombudsman Pavel Astakhov said 52 children who were in the pipeline for U.S. adoption would remain in Russia.
The ban is in response to a measure signed into law by President Obama this month that calls for sanctions against Russians assessed to be human rights violators. That stems from the case of Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer who was arrested after accusing officials of a $230 million tax fraud. He was repeatedly denied medical treatment and died in jail in 2009. Russian rights groups claimed he was severely beaten.
The adoption ban has angered both Americans and Russians who argue it victimizes children to make a political point, cutting off a route out of frequently dismal orphanages for thousands.
U.S. State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell expressed regret over Putin’s signing the law and urged Russia to “allow those children who have already met and bonded with their future parents to finish the necessary legal procedures so that they can join their families.”
Vladimir Lukin, head of the Russian Human Rights Commission and a former ambassador to Washington, said he would challenge the law in the Constitutional Court.
UNICEF estimates that there are about 740,000 children not in parental custody in Russia while about 18,000 Russians are on the waiting list to adopt a child. The U.S. is the biggest destination for adopted Russian children – more than 60,000 of them have been taken in by Americans over the past two decades.
Russians historically have been less enthusiastic about adopting children than most Western cultures. Putin, along with signing the adoption ban, on Friday issued an order for the government to develop a program to provide more support for adopted children.
Many Russians have been distressed for years by reports of Russian children dying or suffering abuse at the hands of their American adoptive parents. The new Russian law was dubbed the “Dima Yakovlev Bill” after a toddler who died in 2008 when his American adoptive father left him in a car in broiling heat for hours.
In that case, the father was found not guilty of involuntary manslaughter, and Russia has complained of acquittals or light sentences in other such cases.
Russians also bristled at how the widespread adoptions appeared to show them as hardhearted or too poor to take care of orphans. Astakhov, the children’s ombudsman, charged that well-heeled Americans often got priority over Russians who wanted to adopt.