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  • 20 December 2012, 0:43

Russia To Ban Orphan Adoption By US Citizens

The lower Russian Parliament has approved an amendment banning the adoption of Russian children by US citizens in a crucial second reading of the so-called Dmitry Yakovlev bill.

If the law is passed in a cosmetic reading on December 21 and gets signed by the upper chamber of Parliament and the President, it may come into force as early as January 1.

Around 30% of orphans in Russia are adopted by foreigners, one third of them by families from the United States, according to the Ministry of Education.

The bill is a reaction to the Magnitsky list, signed into law by President Obama last week, which targets Russian officials allegedly involved in the death of a whistle-blower Sergey Magnitsky, who unveiled a complex scheme of tax fraud involving high police officials and tax agency workers.

Since Mr Magnitsky's death in 2009 the only person tried in court in connection to the tax fraud scheme was Mr Magnitsky himself, posthumously. People mentioned in the Magnitsky whistle-blowing report kept their positions and some even got promoted.

The Magnitsky list imposes US visa bans and asset freezes for people responsible for Magnitsky's death and other human rights violations in Russia.

According to the Levada research centre, 39% of Russians approve the passing of the Magnitsky list.

The Dmitry Yakovlev bill was named after a Russian toddler who died as a result of negligence of his adoptive parent, who left him locked inside the car in the sunshine for nine hours in Virginia.

The bill blacklists US human rights abusers and freezes their assets in Russia. The measure might be extended to citizens of any country which implements the Magnitsky list.

According to Russian officials, 19 adopted children died in the US over the last decade out of more than 60,000. There are more than 1,500 registered deaths of children adopted by Russians since 1996.

Children's ombudsman Pavel Astakhov says Russia has 650,000 registered orphans, which, according to some respected Russian newspapers, is more than any other country in the world.

The new legislation was supported by the overwhelming majority of Russian MPs (400 voted in favour, four against and two abstained) despite outrage from the public and human rights activist.

A combination of words translated as 'Scoundrel's law', referring to the amendment, was trending on Russian Twitter earlier in the day.

Around 20 people were arrested in front of the Parliament building for protesting against the bill. Opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta gathered more than 83,000 signatures under a petition opposing the measure in just 24 hours.

The MP Ilya Ponomarev, who was left in the minority for opposing the measure, said that there are 1,500 children awaiting  adoption by US families, 49 of them with disabilities.

"Do you realise, if we pass the amendment today, we will leave 1,500 children orphans, and kill 49 of them", he asked the Parliament.

Another amendment passed on the same day bans NGO's sponsored by the US and dealing with politics from operating in Russia.

The President's spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Russian media: "Certainly the executive branch's policy is more restrained but taking into account the well-known anti-Russian manifestations, Russian President Vladimir Putin understands the Russian lawmakers' position."

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