December 26, 2012 9:52:48 AM
MOSCOW -- The upper chamber of Russia's parliament on Wednesday unanimously voted in favor of a measure banning Americans from adopting Russian children. It now goes to President Vladimir Putin to sign or turn down.
All 143 members of the Federation Council present voted to support the bill, which has sparked criticism from both the United States and from Russian activists who say it victimizes children by depriving them of the chance to escape often-dismal orphanages.
The bill is one part of a larger measure by angry lawmakers retaliating against a recently signed U.S. law that calls for sanctions against Russians deemed to be human rights violators. Putin hasn't committed to signing the bill, but has referred to it as a legitimate response to the new U.S. law.
Some top government officials, including the foreign minister, have spoken flatly against it, arguing the measure would be in violation of Russia's constitution and international obligations.
But Senator Mikhail Margelov, chairman of the Council's foreign affairs committee, referred to the bill as "a natural and a long overdue response" to the U.S. legislation.
"Children must be placed in Russian families, and this is a cornerstone issue for us," he said.
Several people with posters protesting the bill were detained outside the Council before the vote. "Children get frozen in the Cold War," one poster read.
There are about 740,000 children without parental custody in Russia, according to UNICEF. More than 60,000 Russian children have been adopted in the United States in the past 20 years.
The bill is named in honor of Dima Yakovlev, a Russian toddler who was adopted by Americans and then died in 2008 after his father left him in a car in broiling heat for hours. The father was found not guilty of involuntary manslaughter. Russian lawmakers argue that by banning adoptions to the U.S. they would be protecting children and encouraging adoptions inside Russia.
Russian children rights ombudsman Pavel Astakhov told the Interfax news agency that 46 children who were about to be adopted by U.S. citizens would stay in Russia if the bill is adopted -- despite court rulings in some of these cases authorizing the adoptions.
The ombudsman supported the bill, saying that foreign adoptions discourage Russians from adopting children.
"A foreigner who has paid for an adoption always gets a priority compared to potential Russian adoptive parents," Astakhov said. "A great country like Russia cannot sell its children."