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If there is one country that typifies the changing attitudes toward international adoptions, it is Russia, or the Russian Federation (former Soviet Union). Just as the United States has begun to realize that there is no real substitute for adoptive families for children in need of parents, a concern that led to the passage of the ADOPTION AND SAFE FAMILIES ACT to move U.S. children into families, so have similar concerns impacted Russian policymakers.

As political changes swept across Eastern Europe, Russia became very actively involved with a variety of new international projects, including humanitarian efforts and private international law projects such as those aimed at drafting a new HAGUE CONVENTION ON INTERCOUNTRY ADOPTION. From the beginning of the process in the Netherlands, the Russian delegation was prominent in the debate about better ways to ensure that international adoption properly serves the world's children.

Those dialogues and the interaction between Russian officials and U.S. adoption organizations and agencies led to a gradual establishment of a system of adoption between Russia and the United States. Starting with 12 adoptions in Fiscal Year 1991, the numbers provided by the U.S. Department of State show a gradual increase each year. In 1992, 324 adoptions took place; in 1993, 746; in 1994, 1,087. (See chart in essay on INTERNATIONAL ADOPTION.) By 1997, the numbers were up to 3,816 children, making Russia the leading country allowing its children to be adopted by U.S. citizens. Then in 1998, Russia retained first place at 4,491 adoptions.

The major reason for the increase in numbers, according to Corin Cummings's article in Russian Life, was the fact that there are more than 500,000 children in 900 state-run orphanages and those orphanages are chronically short of funding. Russia's response to the crisis facing its children was to "open the doors" so that a small percentage-at most, 1%-could find families in America.

Russians also responded to data showing what happens to children who are orphaned and never adopted. According to a 1997 report from the NATIONAL COUNCIL FOR ADOPTION, these are the outcomes: "1 in 3 become homeless; 1 in 5 commits a crime; 1 in 10 commits suicide; more than 2 million former orphans are unemployed."

But adoptions from Russia have not been trouble-free. Of 16,000 children adopted, there have been two high-profile cases of problems. One child was killed by an American adoptive mother and two others were allegedly abused on the plane bringing them to America.

Such stories inflamed members of Russia's powerful lower parliament, the Duma, and in 1997, there was talk of stopping or placing a moratorium on adoptions from Russia to the United States. Fortunately for the Russian orphans, certain members of the Duma, sometimes in dialogues with U.S. members of Congress, found ways to improve the system and put additional protections in place. As of this writing, a number of restrictive provisions being considered by the Duma have been set aside, and expectations are that, with some new reasonable changes, adoptions would be able to continue smoothly between the two nations.

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