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.