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Many obstacles lay in the way of potential adoptive parents
Not long ago Ukraine celebrated the National Adoption Day. One could hear victorious reports claiming that words like “orphans” and “orphanages” are about to disappear from our vocabulary, and that in order to adopt a child couples will have to go abroad…
However the reality is not so bloomy. Orphans are still numerous, orphanages are far from being closed down, and the number of kids placed in family-type children’s homes is almost three times smaller than last year. The problems of international and national adoption, despite certain changes for the better, are still remaining the country’s unpresentable “trademark”.
They are not so obvious and monstrous as they were at the turn of the century, and the scandals involving adoption process are almost unheard of. But the problems of the branch, once stricken with corruption, are not eradicated. They are forced inward, and the criminal schemes are safely hidden in the shade. Law-enforcement agencies call this latent, undetected and almost unsolvable crime. During the years of Ukraine’s independence only few cases on unlawful adoption have reached the court. And those that did either fell into oblivion in the process, or ended in the amnesty of the convicts.
Officials in charge of adoption in Ukraine think that the rumours about corruption in the branch are exaggerated, and the information in the Internet and mass media is unsupported and meant for middlebrows. However, back in 2005 former President Viktor Yushchenko on the round-table conference “With love and care to children” told about things unheard of (quote from the stenograph from official website): “I know of the incidents when heads of the departments, controlling adoption centres, offered my colleagues bribes in order to keep their jobs”, and those were “thirteen-figure sums of money”. Of course, the number of digits could be overstated (otherwise the sums would be unreasonably large), but his discontent with heartless lot in command was earnest. And what of it? The court case against Tamara Kun’ko, head of adoption centre, widely trumpeted by the Prosecutor-General’s Office as a heroic victory over corruption, fell into oblivion, and the accused was pardoned.
“Many myths are going about here, that were created ten years ago. They are being exaggerated and presented in a way that makes impression that nothing has changed since then, - told Yurij Pavlenko, Ombudsman for Children at the Presidential Administration to the “Segondya” correspondent. – When speaking to many people it’s easy to see that they are speaking in terms that no longer exist in reality, but are presented as a state policy. The borderline here is very thin. On one side, corruption exists and cannot be defeated in one day, because people are taking advantage of the imperfect legislation, seeking out loopholes and acting, it seems, by law, but in the murky legal terrain, which gives ground to abuse. And on the other side, we are pulling the rug from under the feet of the agents, and they are trying to get back their master-of-the-situation position”.
“International adoption is still an implicit form of traffic in children and information about them, - claims Aleksey Lazarenko, the leading specialist of the Police Department for Children in the Ministry of Internal Affairs. – Kids are chosen as if on the market. They are human commodity. Yet the current legislation makes it impossible to incriminate trading children, because for that border crossing and payment for the agent’s services have to be documented. Neither of this is easy. The government is also loyal to national adoptive parents, who sometimes adopt children not for moral, but for financial reasons. White-collar crimes are hard or even impossible to prove, because government officials aren’t directly involved and do not openly demand money”.
ADOPTERS: “THROUGH ALL CIRCLES OF HELL…”
This year a corrective was made in the current legislation of Ukraine, which set an age restriction on foreign adoption. Now non-residents cannot adopt children under five, while before that they could adopt even children who are not even a year old. According to Irina Kucherina, the head of the Protection of rights and freedoms of the underaged department at the Prosecutor-General’s Office, the initiators of the novelty acted, it should seem, from the best of motives – how can we ladle out orphaned children abroad, while there are not enough of them for national adoption…
“The lack of children for national adoption is a myth –she says. – Look at the statistics: in 2010 Ukrainians adopted 2,247 children, while foreigners – only 1,200. As for the children under 1 year old, the figures are 998 and 38, from 1 to 2 years old – 372 and 232… Legislators, though they wanted to restrict foreigners who sometimes went through all circles of hell in order to adopt little Ukrainians, ended up restricting children… Because it is foreigners who were much more willing to adopt kids with serious diseases, physical disabilities and birth defects than our fellow nationals... Now these children with special needs can simply remain unwanted”.
SHE CAME BACK. Mrs. Kucherina remembers an impressive occurrence in the Zaporozhye orphanage she was inspecting. Galina Galkina, the head of the orphanage, showed her two little twins, left by their birthmother – they were born with a serious internals malformation. An American woman came to the orphanage, and she wanted to adopt the children…
“That’s all right, she said, we’ll cure the kids, they are so nice, just one surgery – and they will be just like everybody else, - tells us Mrs. Kucherina. – But unluckily for her Ukraine announced the three-year moratorium for foreign adoption. And she went home empty-handed. The time passed by, the boys grew older. There were no chances they would be treated in Zaporozhye, with such a diagnosis. And the boys were so bright and cheery – such a lovely sight. And when the moratorium was removed, this woman... came for them again. She said: “Yes, now they will need two surgeries, not just one, but I will still take them and bring up like my own…” And she took them and had the surgery done, the boys are grown-up now... This story touched me, cut my heart. If it was not for the kind-hearted American lady, nothing good would be expecting the twins, no view of recovery as well…”.
As for corruption in the adoption sphere, Irina Kucherina agrees with the view that it is incredibly hard to find and prove the signs of corrupt practices in the actions of the public servants. In Western countries adoption is controlled by non-governmental organizations, invested with certain authorities and rights. If the least thing goes wrong, the organisation’s license is revoked.
In Ukraine those far from both adoption and government organisations try to “feed” at the adoption trough. “They are trying to intercept a non-resident at the airport and at once to sign a contract for agent services in escorting, translation, legal support, transportation and everything else up to filing the whole package of adoption documents, - mentions Mrs. Kucherina. – Foreigners who know neither language, nor legislation and regulatory system, humbly come to all terms”.
WAR IS WAR: IN BULLETPROOF VESTS AND WITH BODYGUARDS
Up to the year 2005 adoption in Ukraine was under the authority of the Ministry of Education and Science, under whose wing was running the adoption centre, exposed by the Prosecutor-General’s Office as the focus of the clandestine business in selling children abroad. That’s why this field was put under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Children, Youth and Family Affairs, which at that time was run by Yurij Pavlenko.
“We faced colossal difficulties, - he says. – International adoption exceeded national adoption, Ukrainian kids were taken abroad in large numbers. In 2005 foreigners adopted 2,156 Ukrainian kids, while Ukrainian residents – only 1,419. The employees of the adoption centre told us that Ukrainian families were poor and not ready for adoption for both financial and moral reasons... We undertook a study and came to a different conclusion – 18% of Ukrainian families were willing to take in an orphan or a child whose parents were deprived of parental rights. Some of them were ready to do this at once, others – with certain governmental support. And we started to remedy the situation step by step.
Instead of the adoption centre we created the Adoption State Department and employed new personnel. We succeeded to provide them with the status of civil servants (this raised the responsibility level) and obliged them to know foreign languages (this allowed to go without service agents – at that point in time there were more than 300 people in about 30 organized groups helping non-residents with adoption, illegally, but for a lot of money).
We also began to eliminate various organizational lapses. For example, earlier adoption by a non-resident took one year, while national adoption could take three years or more – people were sent to endless authorities, they didn’t show them children, searched for other reasons for false delays. Naturally, those whose access to criminal schemes was blocked, didn’t like what we were doing. We were under an enormous pressure: telephone threats, accusation of incompetence, blackmail and bribery...”.
Mr. Pavlenko admits that the pressure was so huge we had to request the assistance of the law-enforcement agencies. “We had an armoured door with a digital security lock in the department in order to eliminate the access of the unauthorized people, and the employees, including women, had to wear bulletproof vests to work. – says he. – We had the officers of the Security Service of Ukraine attached to us... And our greatest achievement is that the number of national adoptions increased in the first year of our activity (while the number of foreign adoptions decreased), other forms of adoptions revived too – foster homes, family-type children’s homes... And then, in 2007, for some reasons they decided to transfer us other areas of work, and everything in the adoption sphere resumed its national course. I would call this period a certain renascence of the intermediary structures we tried to overcome, earnestly and to some purpose. But after a year’s time they came again”.
In the 90s, when the international adoption was at its noonday, many people saw it as foreigners’ attempt to acquire a living doll one could easily and fearlessly offend, hit or punish (for there is really very little control over such parents after adoption). Luckily, no such cases were documented.
But here is a shocking example from Ukrainian reality. 40-year old Nadezhda N., a model adoptive mother, former head of Ovruch Department for Children in Zhytomir region, Regional Council member, who also has older daughter of her own, beat her 3-year-old adopted child to death (“Segodnya” wrote about the tragedy in spring). The investigation brought to light that the mother, who had very complimentary professional, social and personal credentials, was often flippant with her hands. She used to hit her son and both his older sisters, 4- and 6-year-old, whom she took in together…
In order to find out how the story ended we contacted regional prosecutor’s office. “We placed the sisters into the local orphanage, provided them with the help of professional psychologists and teachers, - told us the spokeswoman Tatyana Gosha. – In August the girls were adopted by the citizeness of Ukraine. The trial over Nadezhda N. continues. Also those regional council officials who had given her positive credentials without adequate examination of her moral qualities, which lead to the boy’s death, were held criminally responsible”.
Ovruch interdistrict prosecutor Andrey Mamkuta and regional prosecutor’s chief officer Diana Alchimova refuse to tell the names of those involved. Really, why should they? What if both cases fall into oblivion…
CHANNEL FOR BRIBES STAY INTACT
The transfer of adoption function from Ministry of Education to Ministry of Youth of Family, the creation of specialized state department with new qualified lawyers with foreign language skills instead of the adoption centre did not go unnoticed for the agents – a large crowd of “trustees”, who used to make rather high profit from the adoption business. They imposed their own rules from the very airport where the adopters landed and took a great deal of money for translations, meetings with “right” people and other services all the way to court decision and going home. Now, according to the law-enforcement agencies, of more than 500 middlemen organizations that were operating 5-8 years ago only 60 or 70 are remaining. And though in the past they used to offer “turn-key” services, now their specialization is much more focused. Some of them select the children that are to be adopted during their health improvement trips abroad. Others work with orphanage doctors, who a ready (for a bribe, of course) to make up a false diagnosis (this helps to hold back healthy children under the pretence of their illness for those who are ready to pay more for adoption). Others negotiate with the judges the “right” verdict in the adoption cases (directly or with the aid of lawyers).
SIX STABS IN CORRUPTION’S BACK
Here are the steps that can help to minimize risks in national and international adoption:
1. Activating state’s support of national adoption and family forms of education for orphans and children deprived of parental care; further implementation of the principle “Money should follow children” (according to which a child is funded, not an institution, no matter where this child lives – in the orphanage or in the family-type institution); restructuring of orphanages and children’s homes; developing older kids adoption culture.
2. Setting time limit for adoption court trials – two months in the beginning, several days over the longer term. Besides, the judges engaged should specialize in the cases involving adoption and crimes committed against or by children. Gradually implementing criminal justice towards children.
3. Increasing responsibility for making up false diagnoses, hindering national adoption (Ukrainians are mostly afraid to adopt children with serious illnesses). In this way children are recommended for adoption by non-residents.
4. Increasing of local authorities’, employees of guardianship and care departments’, state officials’ personal responsibility for strict law observance in the adoption sphere and for every child’s future.
5. Replacing extreme, punitive measures, which nowadays often lead to the deprivation of parental rights and orphancy, with a gentler approach, oriented on preserving children’s families and their protection. Parents should be deprived of parental rights only in exceptional circumstances, when there is a real danger to children’s life and health.
6. Ratification of the Hague Convention, which gives a possibility to formulate a mechanism of control over the future life of Ukrainian kids, adopted by foreigners, exercised by Ukrainian diplomatic officials in other countries. It also makes it possible to increase the responsibility of foreign countries and adopters in case they break the requirements of the convention.
Source: information from the Prosecutor-General’s office, Ombudsman for Children at the Presidential Administration, interviews of adoptive parents.
“SAY NO TO ORPHANCY”: WITHOUT MYTHS
In December the all-Ukrainian internet website on adoption issues “Say no to orphancy” turns 2 years. The site was created by the charity foundation “Development of Ukraine”, the State Department for Adoption and Protection of Children’s Rights and the non-governmental organization “Magnoliya”. “The website gives information about the children that are to be adopted, makes it easier to establish connection between children and adoptive parents, - tells us Daria Kasyanova, the head of the project. – Otherwise if the potential family wants to meet a child from an orphanage, they often have to pay up to $700 only to see him at the children’s concert. Is this not corruption?”
In order to eliminate the loopholes and terminate such action, the web-site has its own database with pictures of orphans and children deprived of parental care. In case a person wants to receive more information about a child, he or she has to register on the website, leaving his personal information – thus such contacts will not be anonymous…
Daria disapproves of international adoption, because she thinks it still serves as a source of profit for a certain part of Ukrainians. “We often receive calls from adopters in Lvov, Ivano-Frankovsk and other regions complaining that they are being denied the adoption because there are no more children that can be adopted, - says she. – But when suddenly a foreigner turns out wanting to adopt a child, and the child is found instantaneously, only the sum that has to be paid for this is $20, 000 or even up to $50, 000… It is a myth that foreigners do not care whether a child is healthy or not. Most of them want healthy kids without pathologies, serious diagnoses or inherited disturbances. And they are willing to pay big money for such kids”.
FAQ: WHAT’S ALLOWED AND WHAT ISN’T
Adoption - taking a child into one’s family on equal terms with one’s own (biological) children, which puts upon the adoptive family certain rights and responsibilities. It is a top-priority form of children’s placement. For the adoptive parents it is the highest point of responsibility for the child’s present and future life.
The priority right in adoption is given to relatives, people ready to adopt several brothers and sisters, citizens of Ukraine and married couples.
In order to adopt a child one needs: personal consent of the child (except for the cases when due to age or health condition a child cannot express his or her opinion), consent of guardian or orphanage (children’s home), decision of guardian authority or court.
Court decision on adoption cases is made taking into account health condition, financial and marital status, motives of adoption, child’s personality, health conditions, his or her attitude towards adopters.
The court cannot deny adoption because the adopters already have own children or may have them in the future.
Siblings cannot be separated in the process of adoption. The number of children adopted by one person is not limited.
The adopters are allowed to give the child their surname, change the child’s name and patronym, date of birth.
“Segodnya” thanks the charity foundation “Development of Ukraine” and all-Ukrainian website on adoption issues “Say no to orphancy” for their help in the preparation of the article.