MOSCOW – A senior lawmaker called Tuesday for a moratorium on U.S. citizens adopting children from Russia — a sharp escalation in a campaign against foreign adoptions triggered by a series of deaths of Russian children in the United States.
Yekaterina Lakhova (search), chairwoman of a parliamentary committee that oversees adoption legislation and member of the pro-Kremlin United Russia party (search), urged authorities to impose restrictions on countries where adopted children have been abused.
She did not mention the United States by name but noted that 13 Russian children have been killed there in recent years.
"When 13 children die in one country ... I would make some statement and introduce a temporary period, a moratorium for that country," she told a news conference.
Russian nationalists often accuse foreigners of "buying" children, some 260,000 of whom live in orphanages and similar facilities. Incidents of abuse by foreign adoptive parents are widely reported in the media.
In the most recent case, a North Carolina woman was arrested in early July on charges of fatally beating a 2-year-old Russian girl she had recently adopted. Earlier this year, an Illinois woman was imprisoned for 12 years for the death of her 6-year-old son just weeks after he was adopted from Russia.
The U.S Embassy in Moscow said it would issue a statement later.
Children's advocates assailed Lakhova's initiative, saying that imposing a moratorium would only harm those waiting to be adopted.
"Lakhova is ready to sacrifice thousands of children, many of whom will die" without proper medical care, said Boris Altshuler, director of Russia's Right of the Child (search) group.
He said that the figure of 13 children was minuscule compared with the estimated 2,000 children killed in Russia every year.
Deputy Prosecutor General Sergei Fridinsky disputed that, telling reporters that 1,080 children have been killed in Russia in 2000-05, about 200 children per year.
Altshuler said most of the children who died in the United States were adopted via individual brokers, over which Russian authorities have no control, as opposed to foreign adoption agencies that operate with official accreditation and oversight.
He said he supported enforcing stricter controls or even imposing a moratorium over such "independent" adoptions.
Speaking at the same news conference, Fridinsky accused foreign adoption agencies of giving bribes and using illegal middlemen to speed up the process.
"A significant part [of the agencies] is working in a way they should not be working according to law," the prosecutor general said.
He said foreign parents were getting an illegal advantage over Russian citizens wanting to adopt and that Russians should be guaranteed priority.
The number of Russian adoptions dropped from 14,000 to about half that since the early 1990s, he said, while the number of foreign adoptions rose from 1,400 to 9,000 — half of those by U.S. families.
Russian families rarely adopt because of social stigma, and the Education Ministry recently launched a Web site to promote domestic adoptions.