East-West Church & Ministry Report
Vol. 1, No. 3, Summer 1993, Covering the Former Soviet Union and East Central Europe

International Adoption from Russia: Politics and Promise

Jeff Willis

Inter-country adoption (ICA), at its best, is a mission worthy of the Christian. "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this, to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." (James 1:27 NIV) The challenge lies in effectively dealing with the last portion of the verse. ICA can be a very complex and potentially unethical activity.

In their desire to nurture and care for a child, parents who choose ICA are often unaware of the forces which affect their chances for a successful adoption. Approved agencies with good in-country representation can clarify issues and provide prospective parents with support if things go wrong in the country.

Adoption by foreigners within Russia became legal by official declaration in late 1990. It has not, however, been codified and made part of a meaningful legislative document. Dates for resolution of this issue have come and gone several times because of the protracted struggle between  a popularly elected president and a legislature without public mandate.

The lack of legislative guidelines has left ICA at the mercy of short-sighted power politics. Nationalists and old school communists perceive it and other socio-economic issues as the "soft underbelly" of the Yeltsin administration and one way to assert an anti-reform agenda. Russian journalists published emotionally and politically charged stories on corruption and export of children. Anti-ICA statements increased throughout the fall of 1992, culminating with a Supreme Soviet declaration on December 18, 1992, which placed a moratorium on international adoption. The moratorium stated that until further legislative action ICA would be permitted only "in exceptional and urgent instances when it is necessary in the interest of the health of the child."

Despite this action, children with no clear health condition continue to leave the country, although at a decreased pace. Behind the mask of concern for the human rights of the child, upper and mid-level officials have been waging a behind-the-scenes war over control of adoption activity. The prospects of financial and political gain contribute to the struggle and deadlock. In a country where a majority of persons earn a salary below $50 per month, ICA can become a lucrative business. Officials and those with official connections, facing budget cuts and soaring inflation, certainly understand this. The need to find sources of revenue has caused offices to act in a commercial fashion. Officials who, in late 1990, stated they would not "help the capitalists get a single Soviet child" are now cooperating, but at a price.

Some government officials and those with official connections have attempted to establish centrally controlled or regional monopolies and have demanded fees of up to $1,000 per child. These moneys are often used exclusively for the administrative overhead and growth of their offices. Officials and individuals have demanded  a variety of gratuities ranging from copy and fax machines to international plane fare for visits with adopted children abroad. While some of these requirements may seem reasonable to facilitate adoption efforts, those foreign individuals and agencies unable--by virtue of policy or means--to make these offerings can be locked  out of the adoption process.

Centralized controls and payments anger those saddled with the real expenses of child care and adoption. They rightly ask, "Shouldn't these fees be used to assist the administration of local orphanages to make life better for children still in institutions?" These disagreements make resolution of the ICA issue problematic.

Those who wish to pursue ICA under the current conditions must consider a number of vital issues.

Many compassionate Russians hope that adoption abroad will give a future to children unlikely to be adopted in-country. But that will depend largely on the shape of pending legislation. In the meantime, agencies and prospective parents must not forget the trials of the children who wait and the trials of those working on their behalf. 

Jeff Willis has served as an international adoption field representative in the former Soviet Union. He currently serves as a consultant on missions and social service infrastructure.  In 1993 he plans to establish a non-profit agency in Russia committed to raising the quality of life for orphans.He and his family reside in Moscow.

Accredited agencies
According to the American Embassy in Moscow, as of March 1993, the following agencies had working agreements with the Moscow Adoption Center, which handles international adoptions in the Russian capital. U.S. citizens may contact the Department of State, Office of Citizens Consular Services, 2201 C Street NW, Washington DC 20502, 202-647-3445, fax 202-647-2835, for a list of agencies accredited for Russian Republic adoptions outside Moscow.

Adoption Service Information Agency (ASIA) 
7720 Alaska Ave., NW 
Washington, DC 20012 

Alliance for Children, Inc. 
40 William St. #G80 
Wellesley, MA 02181 

Children of Light 
Box 236 
Mill Valley, VA 94942 

Cradle of Hope 
Suite 1050 
1815 H St., NW 
Washington, DC 20006 

Holt International Children's Services 
Box 2880 
Eugene, OR 97402 

Illien Adoptions International 
1250 Piedmont Ave., NE 
Atlanta, GA 30309 

International Families, Inc. 
RR2, Box 81 
Lincolnville, ME 04849 

Jeff Willis, "International Adoption from Russia: Politics and Promise," East-West Church & Ministry Report, 1 (Summer 1993), 10-11.

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1993 East-West Church and Ministry Report
ISSN 1069-5664

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