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Orphans In Middle Of Russian Political Dispute With U.S.


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

We reported yesterday on a bill passed by the Russian Parliament. It would block American families from adopting Russian children. Adoption advocacy groups are appealing to President Vladimir Putin not to sign the measure.

And as we hear from NPR's Michele Kelemen, adoption has been a sensitive issue between the U.S. and Russia for years.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Russian politicians are well aware of the bad adoption stories; the boy who was sent back to Moscow on a plane alone, or Dima Yakovlev, a Russian born toddler who died after his adoptive father left him in a hot car for hours in 2008. Lawmakers named their new legislation after Dima.

But Alexander D'Jamoos is hoping that Russians will listen to his story. D'Jamoos was born with physical disabilities in Penza, a provincial town southeast of Moscow.

ALEXANDER D'JAMOOS: Because of my disabilities, my biological parents left me in the hospital right after I was born. So I was at a state orphanage since birth.

KELEMEN: At age 15, he came to the United States to have his lower limbs amputated.

D'JAMOOS: I had an amputation so that I would be able to wear prosthetics. The family I stayed with during my medical treatment, our relationship became a lot more close and we decided to become one family.

KELEMEN: Now 21, and a student at the University of Texas in Austin, he says he's had the chance to travel back to Russia, where he found childhood friends from the orphanage living on the streets or wasting away in nursing homes. He's furious that despite all its wealth, Russia, in his words, refuses to take care of its citizens with disabilities, as well as orphans.

So, D'Jamoos wrote a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin urging him not to sign the adoption ban, which he calls inhumane, immoral and atrocious.

D'JAMOOS: Had this law been passed six years ago, I wouldn't be here. I wouldn't have a little brother, I wouldn't have parents, I wouldn't go to a university. I wouldn't be able to walk. And there are hundreds of thousands of children in Russia who are deprived on this potential future.

KELEMEN: Putin, though, has indicated he supports the adoption ban as an appropriate response to a new U.S. law that imposes visa bans on Russian officials accused of human rights violations.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: (Foreign language spoken)

KELEMEN: At his state council meeting today, Putin said he sees no reason not to sign the adoption ban, though he's still studying the final text. He went on to say that there are a lot of countries where living standards are higher than in Russia.

PUTIN: (Foreign language spoken)

KELEMEN: And so what, Putin says, shall we send all our children there? Maybe we should also move there ourselves?

The State Department calls the adoption ban a misguided attempt to link the fate of children to unrelated political considerations. The ban was proposed just a month after a bilateral adoption agreement took effect.

Lauren Koch, of the National Council for Adoption, says the agreement seemed to make the Russians more comfortable with the adoption process, ensuring that prospective parents received more hours of preparation.

LAUREN KOCH: There are also quite lengthy, intense background checks for these adoptive parents. And then, there are more controls in place for the families to be monitored after the adoption is finalized. So we believed it was as a step in the right direction. To see all of that sort of undone because of this political maneuvering is really quite sad.

KELEMEN: Koch says her office is getting plenty of calls now from worried families. She says there are about 1,500 American families now in the process of adopting from Russia. Forty-six of them had already been matched with a child.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.