Russia Calls for Halt on U.S. Adoptions After Return of Boy
By CLIFFORD J. LEVY
MOSCOW — The Russian government on Friday proposed suspending all adoptions of Russian children by Americans after a 7-year-old boy was put on a plane by himself this week and returned to Moscow with a note from his adoptive mother in Tennessee saying that she could no longer care for him.
The mother said in the note that the boy had severe psychological problems and that she was deceived by the adoption agency into accepting him last September.
The case of the boy, Artyom Savelyev, who was named Justin by his adoptive American mother, attracted widespread attention here, underscoring the acute sensitivity of the issue. Russians feel humiliated that their country, which they perceive as a world power, cannot take care of its own children and has to give them up to foreigners. Russia was the third leading source of adoptive children in the United States in 2009, with 1,586, following China, with 3,000, and Ethiopia, according to State Department figures.
Artyom arrived in Moscow on Thursday on a flight from Washington, and Russian immigration officials immediately took custody of him after he presented them with the note. His mother, Torry Ann Hansen, a registered nurse from Shelbyville, Tenn., wrote in the note that the boy “is violent and has severe psychopathic issues,” and that she “was lied to and misled by the Russian orphanage workers” about the depth of his troubles.
Artyom’s adoptive grandmother, Nancy Hansen, accompanied him on a flight to Washington, and then put him on a direct flight to Moscow on Wednesday, giving him a small backpack with magic markers and candy. The grandmother had found a guide over the Internet who, for $200, agreed to pick up the child in Moscow and take him to the Education Ministry.
Nancy Hansen told The Associated Press on Friday that the boy had been violent and angry with his mother in the United States. She said the case was not child abandonment because of the arrangements they had made to have the boy be picked up at the airport and delivered to officials in Moscow.
On Friday, Russian television broadcast scenes showing the federal children’s ombudsman, Pavel Astakhov, sitting at a table with Artyom, whose face was slightly blurred to conceal his identity. A traditional Russian nesting doll has been placed squarely in the middle of the table.
Mr. Astakhov has a reputation as an outspoken Russian nationalist, and once led a group called “For Putin,” in support of Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin.
Speaking to Artyom in both Russian and English, Mr. Astakhov asked him about his adoptive mother, Ms. Hansen. Artyom said she was “bad.”
“Did she hit you?” Mr. Astakhov asked.
Artyom said no, but then motioned to show that she had pulled his hair.
“Did you cry?” Mr. Astakhov asked.
“Yes,” Artyom said.
“You are a man, you shouldn’t cry,” Mr. Astakhov said.
Mr. Astakhov later told reporters that Artyom “needs to be rehabilitated. He needs good care now.” He said Artyom would be sent to a children’s institution in Russia. He had been adopted from an orphanage in Russia’s Far East, near Vladivostok.
“This is not the first case when foreign citizens have adopted Russian children, and in our opinion, the process of adoption must be under more strict control,” he said.
Sheriff Randall Boyce of Bedford County, Tenn., said law enforcement officials were investigating the case, and planned to interview Ms. Hansen later on Friday. Mr. Boyce said he had received no prior complaints of abuse or neglect relating to the boy.More than 50,000 Russian children have been adopted by United States citizens since 1991, according to statistics from the United States Embassy. The adoption rate peaked at 6,000 in 2003, then declined as screening procedures and other legal hurdles mounted.
Fourteen Russian children adopted by Americans have died of abuse since 1996, Russian officials said last year. While the number is minuscule compared with the total number of adoptions, the cases have caused furors here.
Russian officials lashed out at the American government last year after a Virginia man was acquitted of manslaughter in the death of his toddler son, who had been adopted from Russia.
The boy died of heatstroke after his father left him in a parked vehicle for nine hours. Some officials called for increased restrictions or the end of adoption of Russian children by Americans, but no ban was put in place.
On Friday, though, the case of Artyom stirred a backlash.
The Russian foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, said he would propose that all adoptions of Russian children by Americans be suspended until the Russian and American governments work out a new agreement.
“We have for a long time proposed to the Americans that this be done, but they have constantly avoided it,” Mr. Lavrov said. “The latest case was the final straw. We will demand that an agreement be made.”
The United States Embassy in Moscow did not immediately respond to Mr. Lavrov’s announcement. Earlier, the United States ambassador to Russia, John Beyrle, said he was “deeply shocked and outraged” by Artyom’s case, and added, “It is hard to accept how any family could so cruelly treat a child that they had officially adopted.”
Russian officials also said they had suspended the license of the agency that had coordinated Artyom’s adoption, the World Association of Children and Parents, which is based in Renton, Wash., outside of Seattle.
Lillian Thogersen, the group’s president, said it was investigating what had happened, but said she could not discuss details of the case, such as whether the boy’s adoptive mother had reported any problems or had given any indication she was thinking of returning him to Russia.
“It’s very, very concerning, there’s no doubt about it,” she said. “It’s one of the last things one would ever want for a child. It’s heart rending.”
Ms. Thogersen said the agency had worked in Russia for 20 years, and regularly conducts home visits and provides support to parents in the United States once they bring their adopted children home.
An American couple who was nearing the end of the process of adopting a Russian baby reacted with despair to the news that the Russian government would suspend adoptions. The couple, who asked that their names not be used to avoid offending the Russian authorities, had already visited Moscow once to take care of the legal procedures, and was planning to return soon to receive the baby.
“My heart is sinking,” the father said. “We knew about laws changing in midstream, that these foreign governments are very bureaucratic, and that there is a lot of posturing that causes delays. But we picked Russia because it seemed like we had a pretty good chance. Now we don’t know what to do.”