The Politics of Russian Adoptions–A Different Kind Of Commodification?

Not long ago the US Congress enacted a law spurred by Russia’s recent human rights record.   This law restricts the travel of Russian officials accused of human rights abuses.   Unsurprisingly, its enactment did not make the Russian government terribly happy.    Now before you think I’ve completely lost the focus of this blog, what I want to focus on is not the US law but rather the Russian response.  You can read about it here, but the bottom line is that the Russians have threatened to retaliate by banning US citizens from adopting children from Russia.  (A more recent news story says that the law has been enacted.)

Now there have been some appalling cases involving Russian children adopted by US families.  One particularly notorious one has been discussed here.    The article refers to a number of others, with a shocking number involving the deaths of children.     This surely suggests that there are very serious problems with the operation of the adoption system.    And it suggests that action ought to be taken.

It’s a bit hard to say where exactly the problems lie based on what’s recited here, but there are surely several possibilities to consider–poor screening or counselling of prospective adoptive parents, for example.  The thing is, though, if this is the problem–or one of several problems–then it should show up without regard to where the kids are from.   (Statistics in the Guardian article suggest that if screening  is the problem, it’s at least as much a problem in domestic Russian adoptions.)   And if this is a problem, it is a problem whether the US (or European countries) enact human rights based sanctions legislation or not.

It seems clear that what is happening here is that children–Russian children who might be adopted–are being used as pawns in a larger political/diplomatic struggle.   Perhaps some Russian legislators are genuinely concerned about the fate of Russian children–but their willingness to couch this as a retaliatory move suggests something far more cynical.

We’ve discussed issues of commodification here in the past.   The role of money in adoption and in ART is certainly problematic.   But this story makes me realize that a form of commodification can exist even without money changing hands.   Using adoption (and by a very small extension, children) as a kind of bargaining chip or as a carrot/stick to encourage other totally unrelated behavior reduces the status of those children to that of grain exports or steel quotas.   It’s as much commodification as any exchange of money.


3 responses to “The Politics of Russian Adoptions–A Different Kind Of Commodification?

  1. Julie,

    I have very mixed feelings on this subject. On one hand children are suffering in institutions – on the other hand there does seem to be a serious problem with *some* people who adopt – whether it is lack of understanding/lack of education, misguided “religious” teachings, lack of post-adoption support, a savior mentality taking on too much and failing. From the worst possible outcome (murder) to the dissolutions and rehoming or the Ranch type facilities – there is a problem (not just Russia). The dissolution and rehoming and the ranch aspect often is allowed to fly under the radar, and it shouldn’t be allowed to – because the scope and breadth of the issue cannot be quanitfied, and as such it cannot be addressed.

    The Adoption Agencies need to be the ones who do some deep soul-searching on their processes, because there is a systemic failure happening around adoption from institutional settings.

    Bans are the way to get action – like it or not. Citizens from another country don’t have the right to adopt the children in another – so doing it right (even if it means less adoptions), is the way to do so. Adopting parents also have to shoulder the blame in being remiss in doing post-placement reports that are mandated for three years in Russia, and cause big problems with Russia – they refuse to approve new adoptions when there are serious arrears from an agency to just none at all from that region. PEAR has posted many warnings over the years listing numerous agencies with outstanding PPR’s – and unless it has suddenly become better then of course that adds another nail so to speak.

    I don’t have any answers, but I doubt anyone can say there is no fault on the US side. Russia has not banned adoptions from other countries that I know of.

  2. The solution is birth control but there isn’t much we in the US can do about that.

  3. yes yes it is comodification whenever minors are used for a purpose

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