Moscow (AsiaNews) - Despite a wave of criticism from civil society groups and members of the Russian government, the Russian Orthodox Church has backed the controversial 'anti- Magnitsky bill' that President Vladimir Putin signed into law last Friday. As of 1 January, the new law bans adoptions of Russian children by US citizens.
The new Russian law was adopted in response to a US law, the Magnitsky Act, which imposes sanctions on Russian officials suspected of involvement in human rights violations. In 2009, lawyer and auditor Sergei Magnitsky died in a Moscow prison under suspicious circumstances after exposing fraud involving the Russian Interior Ministry.
The Russian law was inspired by the case of Dima Yaklovev, a Russian-born toddler who died after his US adoptive father forgot him in his car. A US court eventually found the latter not guilty in the child's death. The law also targets US-funded Russian NGOs involved in political activities and foreigners involved in violating the human rights of Russians abroad.
Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, chairman of the Synodal Department for the Cooperation of Church and Society of the Moscow Patriarchate, said the law was "a search for a social answer to an elementary question: why should we give, and even sell, our children abroad?" Speaking to state news agency Interfax, Chaplin said the path to heaven would be closed to children adopted by foreigners. "They won't get a truly Christian upbringing".
For the critics of the Russian Orthodox Church, its support for the law is the latest example of its submission to the Kremlin, in which it acts more like a government ministry than an independent spiritual body.
Patriarch Kirill has not yet spoken on the matter since the controversy broke out. Once the bill is signed into law by Putin, the patriarch said the Church would set aside an unspecified amount of money to help orphans and family in difficulty.
Criticised by human rights defenders and even some ministers in the Russian government, including Putin loyalist Foreign Minister Serghei Lavrov, the law calls for an improvement in the conditions of orphans. Incentives would be provided to Russian couples to adopt.
However, the problem in Russia is cultural. Adoption is seen as something to hide. In addition, only very young and healthy children are prized because of biases against alleged "genetic defects" passed on by poor families.
The anti-Magnitsky law also stops adoption procedures already underway. Fifty-two Russian children ready to leave for the United States will thus remain in Russia. The New York Times slammed the Russia law for upending the plans of American couples in the final stages of adopting in Russia. Already, it has cost many of them US$ 50,000 or more, at a wrenching emotional price.
Adoption agency officials in the United States said there were about 200 to 250 sets of parents who had already identified children they planned to adopt and would be affected.
UNICEF estimates that there are about 740,000 children outside parental custody in Russia whilst about 18,000 Russians are on the waiting list to adopt a child. The United States is the biggest destination for adopted Russian children-more than 60,000 of them have been taken in by Americans over the past two decades.