Russia adoption ban upsets Iowa parent

Nevada man says law hurts families, children

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CEDAR RAPIDS — Following news about a Russian ban on the adoption of orphans by American families is like “something out of a bad movie, but it’s all real,” according to an Iowa parent of a Russian youth.

“It’s like watching a train wreck where they could have stopped the train at any time,” says Lowell Highby of Nevada, who adopted a Russian boy, Alex, in 2009.

“This is just the sickest thing ... twisted and distorted ... lunacy,” Highby says. “I have to get a thesaurus out to find some other words because I don’t know what else to say.”

Highby calls a new Russian law that would ban the adoption of orphans there by American families devastating both to those children and to the U.S. families who have “invested their hearts and souls — and in many cases, a lot of money — to bring these children here and make them a part of their families.”

He called the law an “unspeakable cruelty because all of these families are wonderful people and would have given these children hope for the future.”

The law, which Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin said he will sign, represents an about-face for Russian adoptions. In July, the Russian Parliament approved a long-awaited agreement to simplify the adoptions by Americans.

Russia was the third-most popular country for international adoptions in 2011. Only China and Ethiopia had more. Many American families turn to international adoption after being frustrated by a shortage of healthy U.S. infants or long waits for private adoptions. Others are drawn by interest in foreign cultures or a desire for a child of a specific gender.

However, recently the parliament approved a ban on Americans adopting Russian children. The move is Russia’s response to an American law calling for sanctions against Russians determined to be human rights violators.

Highby is sickened that a “civilized country would use orphans as political pawns.”

Russian human rights and children’s rights advocates say the law would deprive children of the opportunity to escape the squalor of orphanage life.

Dozens of Russian children close to being adopted by American families now will almost certainly be blocked from leaving the country. The law also cuts off the main international adoption route for about three-quarters of a million Russian children without parental care. Many of them live in often dismal orphanages.

Iowa congressmen are monitoring the situation and Sen. Chuck Grassley is among 16 senators to sign a letter telling Putin the “overly broad law would have dire consequences for Russian children.”

Based on statistics from recent years, there are at least 1,000 Russian children in the process of being adopted by American families at any given time, according to the senators’ letter.

So if Putin signs the law, “thousands of Russian children living in institutions may lose an opportunity to become part of a family,” Grassley and his colleagues wrote.

They appealed to his “spirit of compassion for voiceless children ... so this sad turn of events will not lead to harm to so many innocent children.”

There are more than 50 children in line to be adopted in the next few weeks who would have to remain in Russia, according to a spokesman for Rep. Bruce Braley. The State Department’s embassy in Russia would be unable to issue visas required for adopted children to travel to the U.S., his spokesman said.

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