This is a very interesting article on Russia's strategic use of
the US adoption ban from a political and diplomatic perspective.
A different perspective.
Are Children Today's Iron Ore? Russia's Adoption Ban and
Associate Director, Institute for the Study of Human Rights at
With the ban on adoptions by Americans, Putin and the Russian
Parliament placed the child trade where it deserves to be: on the
desks of foreign policy makers. Nobody should be surprised. Now
that Russians as well as Americans have expressed their justified
outrage at children being held hostage to Russia's retaliation
for the U.S.'s Magnitsky Act, which sanctions human rights
violators, shouldn't we ask why Russia's move makes sense? That
way, next time ordinary people's ordinary lives precipitate a
front-page diplomatic crisis, policy makers will be prepared.
Along with trade and war, everyday life is rapidly becoming the
stuff of international diplomacy.
Russia's new ban on "http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/26/world/europe/russian-official-says-adoption-ban-violates-treaties.html?_r=0"
target="_hplink">U.S. adoptions violates international
treaties. But proponents of the ban have been less worried
about infringing international law than eager to benefit from
manipulating the child trade. They are right -- the transfer of
children from their orphanages to our families provides enormous
leverage. And, using that leverage comes with low costs to
Think of children as human iron ore: If you were holding ten
percent of a country's supply, wouldn't you use it to negotiate a
better deal on, say, inward-directed foreign investment? That is
exactly Russia's situation with respect to the American demand
for foreign adoptions. Of course, children are not iron ore, and
human rights violators are not factory owners eager for dollars.
But Americans are amongst the world's largest consumers of the
worldwide supply of children for adoption, and Russia is one of
their primary sources. In 2011, Russian children accounted for
target="_hplink">970 of 9,320 U.S. foreign adoptions. That's
still a distant second to China (2,589), but ahead of South Korea
(736) and well beyond any other competitor. From Russia's point
of view, there's strength in that number.
Russia is also the United States' second-greatest supplier of
iron ore: in 2010, Canada provided over half the country's
imports while Russia's share accounted for just under one tenth,
according to "http://www.indexmundi.com/en/commodities/minerals/iron_ore/iron_ore_t10.html"
target="_hplink">indexmundi. But a Russian embargo on iron
ore sales to the U.S. would be costly; the loss of revenues would
certainly impact domestic constituencies, and the U.S. might
table a dispute before the World Trade Organization -- an
organization with some teeth. The ban on adoptions, however,
affects relatively weak Russian constituencies -- the children
themselves and the middlemen who broker their transfer. And there
are benefits: The institutions in which those children are housed
will likely do well by maintaining their headcount. More
importantly, keeping Russian children in Russia (and Russian)
appeals to national (and nationalist) sentiment. Never mind that
Russians have been slow to adopt their own. According to UNICEF,
target="_hplink">740,000 Russian children are growing up without
parents but only 18,000 Russian families are currently
waiting to adopt a child. In the last two decades, U.S. families
target="_hplink">adopted 60,000 Russian children. Some Duma
parliamentarians claim the ban will prompt more Russians to come
forward. And then there's the poetic justice of this particular
tit-for-tat. The U.S. accuses Russians of being human rights
violators? Russia doesn't think so highly of the U.S.'s treatment
of children, with lawmakers arguing they're safer in local
orphanages than in the care of Americans who might leave them to
die in car parks (as happened to a "http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2012/12/26/russia-adoption-ban-americans/1791959/"
target="_hplink">young boy in 2008) or even ship them back as
damaged goods, as "http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/story/2010/04/09/russia-adoption-tennessee.html"
target="_hplink">one woman did in 2010.
The costs are the children's and Americans.' Herein lies Russia's
power. In the U.S., the costs will be borne by the families
adopting the "http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/12/28/with-u-s-adoption-ban-a-mother-fears-for-russia-s-abandoned-kids.html"
target="_hplink">46 children whom Russia may now refuse to
expatriate. It's not such a large number, but it speaks for
thousands of families to whom accessing the child trade has come
to seem a normal -- indeed, sometimes, philanthropic -- strategy
of family formation. Faced with fertility difficulties, Americans
both adopt and reproduce abroad, crossing borders to buy eggs and
sperm, have them blended and hire gestational carriers.
Technological advances in reproductive medicine and
communications have combined with the other factors driving
globalization to shape robust international markets. So,
Americans frequently go abroad to fulfill one of the basic tasks
of everyday life: reproduction. They also go abroad to study,
access health care, live out retirements, find sexual partners,
Carried out overseas, each activity comes with its own
complications. Children cannot simply be ferried across national
lines; their exit and entrance must comport with the rules of
surrendering and acquiring states. That requires coordinating the
adoption and other filiation procedures on whose basis identity
documents can be issued, immigration visas provided and
eventually citizenship granted. Similarly, access to educational
institutions depends on the recognition of credentials: a U.S.
high school diploma will not grant access to most European
universities. A routine check-up may cost much less in Lyons than
Chicago, but that does not mean that an insurance contract issued
in Chicago insurance will cover it. A New Yorker who retires to
Italy's Riviera might as well leave her living will in a drawer
in New York -- there's almost no chance it will be honored. And,
a Bostonian who marries his same-sex partner in Amsterdam cannot
expect the INS to issue his spouse an immigration visa based on
family status, even though the marriage could have been validly
celebrated in Massachusetts.
So far, these issues have largely been the stuff consular
nightmares are made of. Ambassadorial dreams are disturbed by
threats of war and enlivened by promises of commerce. But as the
lives of Americans -- and almost everyone else -- become
increasingly transnational, states will realize that they can
negotiate over children, students, lovers, the ailing and the
elderly just as profitably as they have always done over arms and
chicken feed. Sounding the clarion call of human rights helps
mobilize shame, but the issue here is contractual power. Russia
is teaching a lesson other countries will soon learn. We should
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