Russia's Ban Against U.S. Adoptions: The Human Cost

Had the ban been made law a few years ago, a Texan college student's life would have turned out very differently.

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Alexander D'Jamoos beneath Mount Kilimanjaro last spring. (Eric Johnson)

Alexander D'Jamoos, a 21-year-old college student in the U.S. state of Texas, thinks others deserve the chance to walk in his shoes. They are shoes that last spring helped him climb Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa's highest peak. But six years ago in a Russian orphanage, D'Jamoos had no shoes. Without working legs, they would have done little good.

D'Jamoos is one of several disabled U.S. adoptees from Russia who have taken on activist roles in recent weeks, protesting their birth country's ban on American adoptions. While the ban is now in effect, D'Jamoos says he's not done fighting a law he calls a "violation of human rights."

"The law assumes that a child will have a better life not living in an American family," D'Jamoos says. "It's a very nationalist policy, and I think that's the biggest crime, really, and a logical fallacy, because it's a fundamental right for every child to have a family, regardless of nationality. [The child] doesn't go to the United States to become American. They go to the United States to have a family. If there's an opportunity for a family, I think it's immoral to take it away from a child."

Signed by President Vladimir Putin on December 28, the Russian ban on U.S. adoptions has thrown thousands of lives into limbo. Doors closed for U.S. parents in the process of adopting, as they have for many of Russia's more than 700,000 orphans. U.S. families have adopted 60,000 Russian children since 1992, including many with disabilities. More Russian children were adopted by U.S. parents in recent years than by families from any other country.

Seen As Tit For Tat

While the ban is nominally an attempt to protect Russian children from abuse they may face by U.S. parents, the measure is seen mainly as a response to U.S. legislation signed into law in December. That legislation imposes sanctions on Russian officials implicated in the 2009 prison death of anticorruption lawyer Sergei Magnitsky and other officials who have acted with impunity in committing alleged gross rights violations.

​​As the U.S. adoption ban sped through Russia's parliament, D'Jamoos decided to take action. On December 20, he initiated an online petition that gained more than 11,000 signatures in a week. On December 26, Paralympics gold-medalist and Russian-born adoptee Tatyana McFadden delivered the petition to the Russian embassy in Washington, D.C.

D'Jamoos says his own story was the best evidence he could offer in appealing to Putin. He wrote:

Throughout my childhood, I had never expected to be loved by a family. My biological parents had left me in the hospital because of my disabilities. My orphanage housed about 100 children, all of whom were physically disabled and had been neglected by their parents. Some of the horrible conditions at the orphanage included no heating during harsh winters, lack of water during summertime, rudimentary education, lack of sanitary facilities, inadequate accessibility equipment, and the worst of all, lack of love and care. I expected a gloomy future in a state-run nursing home.

But D'Jamoos had luck on his side. Just barely.

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Richard Solash is a reporter with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

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