Adopted Toddler's Alleged Death-by-Abuse in Texas Inflames Russia

By Weir, Fred | The Christian Science Monitor, February 19, 2013 | Go to article overview
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Adopted Toddler's Alleged Death-by-Abuse in Texas Inflames Russia

Weir, Fred, The Christian Science Monitor

The alleged death-by-abuse of a 3-year old adopted Russian boy in Texas has triggered a fresh uproar in Russia, which recently passed a law banning all US adoptions amid claims that Russian children who go to the US are not adequately protected by the law and may be singled out for special mistreatment.

The adoption issue has become the single most emotional topic on the growing list of acrimonious US-Russia differences. The latest allegation, though as-yet unverified, has generated a media firestorm in Russia and has the Kremlin's children's rights ombudsman and chief advocate for a total ban on foreign adoptions, Pavel Astakhov, telling journalists that immediate action must be taken to protect other vulnerable Russian children in the US.

"An adoptive mother has killed a three-year-old Russian child in the state of Texas. The murder occurred at the end of January," Mr. Astakhov wrote in his blog Monday.

"The boy died before an ambulance called by his mother arrived. According to a report by medical examiners, the boy had numerous injuries," he added.

No. 20

If the facts cited by Astakhov are accurate, then the death of 3- year-old Maxim Kuzmin, renamed Max Shatto when he came to the US, would be the 20th documented case of a Russian child adopted by US parents dying under suspicious circumstances in the past two decades. That is an extremely small fraction of the approximately 60,000 such adoptions that have occurred over the same time period, but every past example has ignited intense controversy in Russia and bolstered calls by nationalists and communists to end for good the "shameful" practice of exporting Russian children.

Texas Child Protective Services confirmed to the Associated Press that it had received a report on Jan. 21 of the death of Max Shatto, and that the Ector County Sheriff's Office in West Texas was investigating.

Russia's parliament observed a minute of silence Tuesday for Maxim, and many deputies called for an immediate halt to all foreign adoptions, even those that have already been approved by Russian courts.

"Why should we send our children to certain death?" Svetlana Orlova, deputy chair of the upper house of parliament, told the Interfax news agency.

The downward spiral

As US-Russia relations spiraled downward late last year, President Obama signed the Magnitsky Act, which imposes visa and economic sanctions on a list of Russian officials who are accused of serious human rights violations.

Russia swiftly responded with the Dima Yakovlev Act, named after one of the Russian orphans who died, which prescribes a list of restrictions on what US passport holders may do in Russia and bans them from adopting Russian children. President Vladimir Putin supported the measure, and signed it into law in late December.

Even some long time critics of foreign adoptions say that the politicization of the issue has gone too far.

"Every such case of a child dying through abuse is a tragedy, whether it happens here or in the US," says Nina Ostanina, a longtime Communist deputy of the Duma who now works as an expert for the Duma's commission on family, women, and children.

"For the past 20 years people in power were silent about such tragedies and now they are shedding tears. But it's a pity that it's rare that we come to know about such cases when they happen inside Russia. They should all be made public.... Such cases should not be politicized, and this is what is happening now," she adds.

It also happens in Russia

According to the Russian Ministry of Education, which oversees adoptions, Russian children adopted by Russian families in Russia have died through abuse or neglect at a rate that's far higher than those adopted by American families.

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