A Voice of Reason: Sane Views for a Crazy World

April 26, 2007

From Russia With Love? Not Anymore

From NPR.org

I urge you to click on the link and listen to the audio.

Heard this report on Morning Drive. Yes, I listen to NPR. I think I’d rather listen to newstalk, but NPR will do. They cover a wide variety of stories, and this one about Russian adoption policy shifts was worthwhile. You can hear the audio from the link.

Russian authorities have suspended the work of foreign adoption agencies. That has put into limbo the plans of many Americans waiting to adopt Russian children, even as human rights groups say a growing number of institutionalized children in Russia are living — and dying — in wretched conditions.

Most of the nearly 800,000 children called orphans in Russia still have living parents.

The article goes on to describe the children who have left their parents due to the horrific treatment they received from them. These children are lucky, in the sense that they are in an orphanage that is well run, has a good school, and these children are well treated. This is by no means the norm in Russia’s orphanages.

However, even these children are subjected to horrors that thankfully, most people only read about.

“Children are traumatized even in the best orphanages because they have no time to themselves,” Menshov says. “Even this school is too crowded. It needs to be bulldozed. Children shouldn’t live in such places.”

The government has only recently started to encourage Russians to adopt. But very few Russian families want to adopt orphans because they’re often seen as sick or somehow damaged. Half of the 15,000 children adopted in Russia each year are taken in by foreigners.

However, this is about to change.

Americans adopt more children from Russia than from any other country except China and Guatemala. But now the government has suspended the work of all foreign adoption agencies. Officials say it’s a temporary measure, part of the new registration requirements for all non-governmental organizations.

Still, Education Ministry official Sergei Vitelis says Russian children should stay in Russia.

Adoption by foreigners probably isn’t entirely right,” Vitelis says. “Any normal state should create conditions for children to grow up in their own country. That’s what we’re aiming for.”

In principal, I’d have to say that I agree with Mr. Vitelis, but sadly, very few of Russia’s children are adopted by anyone, Russian or American. Overcrowding and neglect are the order of the day for Russia’s orphanages. This is shown by Russia’s own internal reports.

A baby lies crying in a decrepit, wooden maternity hospital in Russia’s poverty-stricken Far North. Many child advocates say places like these are where the problems start. Hospital staff often try to persuade parents of babies with disabilities to give them over to state care. Poverty and alcoholism also drive parents to abandon their children.

Sergei Koloskov, head of the Down Syndrome Society, says that contrary to government figures, the number of orphans in Russia is growing — and overloading the state’s orphanage system.

Healthy babies are lying in hospital beds all day as if they were sick, sometimes for months or longer,” Koloskov says. “They’re completely ignored. No one plays with them or provides any kind of stimulation. That happens because orphanages where they’re supposed to go after birth are full.”

A book that I made myself read to educate myself, and to help in my understanding of my wife’s emotional concerns, as well as those children with whom my job in public education puts me into contact with everyday, The Primal Wound, talks about the gap that is caused by the abandoning of a child’s birth mother. Some mystic and primal force is obviously at work in the bonding process which occurs, and it is clear that more research is warranted into this phenomena. However, an area which has been thoroughly researched is the importance of stimulation and interaction of an infant in the first formative months, where these young human beings come into contact with the world around them. Russian children who are adopted by Americans typically demonstrate severe social disorders, which are caused by the notorious and well documented lack of intimacy and basic interaction between these babies and other humans, and the problem, in Russia is getting much worse as a system which is overstrained is resorting to methods which border on barbarism due to the severe overpopulation of abandoned infant children.

Consider these reports:

“I was stunned,” she says. “They were completely alone. They were fed several times a day and that was it. After a while, they just stop crying.”

Last winter, another patient in a central Russian hospital noticed a room of abandoned babies with their mouths taped shut to stop them from crying. Her cell phone video shocked the country when it was played on national television. Reports of babies tied down in their cots are common. Many believe that’s because hospital staff are seriously overworked.

Boris Altshuler of the Child’s Right group says it’s often immediately clear to visitors that abandoned babies are left to “rot alive.”

“First of all [there’s] the smell — [the] smell of unchanged linens or even children lying on just plastic. And [a] terrible smell because nobody changes, nobody cares,” Altshuler says.

These are in the “good institutions”, and a developing trend is for many children, many of whom have no real illness but may show some anti-social behaviors – wonder why – or due to overcrowding are sent to “special institutions”.

Children considered mentally or physically disabled are sent to special institutions, which Altshuler calls “terrible places.”

A Human Rights Watch report says that children in such institutions may be up to twice as likely to die than those in regular orphanages. Evaluations deciding orphans’ fates are often cursory. Misdiagnosis is common, and sometimes even doled out as punishment for misbehavior.

These institutions seem little better than places where children are sent to die. Set behind high walls, often in remote areas of the country, or outside the main part of cities, little attention is drawn to these places. Their remoteness combined with a cultural acceptance of never questioning the actions of the state, combine to make these little slices of hell on earth a growing reality in Russia.

While there is likely some truth in Russians desiring to have these children raised by Russians, there is also a world that deals with a political reality. In a recent newscast, commentator Charles Krauetenheimer referred to the disturbing trend of Russia’s retreat from democratic principals. His analysis, which is mirrored by many other watch groups, is that Russia has retreated back into a police state, where the KGB no longer reports to the Politburo, but to President Putin. The reality is that modern day Russia may have exchanged Communism for a form of Capitalism, but has gone back to the form that it has held historically since the time of the Tsars, as a people who are more than comfortable with a repressive state’s boot-heel firmly planted on their neck. This, and a growing rift between Russia and the United States in policy goals and as rivals for control of the balance of power in dealings with the EU have put a frosty edge to US and Russian foreign policy, and make no mistake that this shift in adoption policy is part of the fallout of this developing rift. While Russia and the United States are no longer in an adverserial stance, they are certainly in a relationship that would best be described as a rivalry.

These children are now left in limbo, pawns of Putin’s political chess game.


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