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Area families decry Russia adoption ban

– For families who have battled through the challenge of international adoption, a law banning the adoption of Russian children by American families that takes effect today is exceptionally heartbreaking.

“My heart goes out to them,” Fort Wayne resident Mark Mays said of the families in the process of adopting a child from Russia. “When a family steps into this calling of international adoption … they quickly make that child a part of their family before it ever happens legally. At that point, it’s no longer just an orphan waiting over there for them. That’s their child.”

Mays and his wife, Amy, adopted their now 6-year-old son Andrew from Moscow when he was just 2 years old.

Mays, who serves as a youth pastor at Fellowship Missionary Church, said he recently explained the new law to his son and two biological daughters Abby, 10, and Lydia, 6, and all expressed grief for the Russian orphans who will no longer have a chance to become part of an American family.

“It’s not a good thing for Russia because they already have a lot of orphans and will continue to have orphans. It’s not a good thing for orphans themselves and it’s not a good thing for Americans feeling called to adopt,” Mays said.

On Friday, President Vladimir Putin signed the law prohibiting Americans from adopting Russian children, the final step before the law could take effect today.

The move is part of a harsh response to a U.S. law targeting Russians deemed to be human rights violators. Earlier this month, President Obama signed a law that calls for sanctions against Russians assessed to be human rights violators.

Although some top Russian officials, including foreign minister Sergey V. Lavrov, openly opposed the Russian bill outlawing the adoption of Russian children by Americans, Putin signed it less than 24 hours after receiving it from Parliament, where it passed both houses overwhelmingly.

UNICEF estimates that there are about 740,000 children not in parental custody in Russia while about 18,000 Russians are on the waiting list to adopt a child. The U.S. is the biggest destination for adopted Russian children – more than 60,000 of them have been taken in by Americans over the past two decades, according to UNICEF data.

Karin Link, director of the Russia program for Hand in Hand International Adoption, said while the situation is heartbreaking for Americans hoping to adopt, it’s more important to focus on what that means for the hundreds of Russian children awaiting a family to call their own.

“It’s just heartbreaking to know that the children of Russia are going to lose out on the opportunity to have a forever family,” Link said.

Hand in Hand, which manages adoptions in China, Guatemala, Haiti, Philippians and Russia, has an Indiana office in Albion.

Link said there are more than 40 American families who are currently involved in the process of adopting a child from Russia – and little is known so far about whether they’ll be able to continue the adoption process when the law goes into effect. While some of those families have only begun completing the necessary paperwork, others have met and bonded with the children and need only to return to the county to bring them home, she said.

“We don’t have any final word from Russia yet about how that will affect those families,” she said.

Link said the majority of families on the waiting list are hoping to adopt children with special needs – children who have little chance of finding another family to go home with soon.

Jeffrey and Susan Halley of Fort Wayne adopted their sons Andrei and Artem when they were 4 years old.

Although Andrei and Artem aren’t related, they grew up together in the same orphanage before being adopted in Nov. 2004, Susan Halley said.

Halley said she was abroad, she heard many differing opinions of the Russian people – some who believed Americans would harm the children, some who believed it was “wrong” to send children away to other countries and others who thought giving the children a new start was the best thing to do.

While on the trip to adopt, Halley recalled reading a Russian newspaper article about the detrimental affects of adoption and feeling concerned for the children who remained in the orphanage.

“There were strong proponents that said adoption by Americans is the right thing, but there were also people very upset about it,” Halley said. “There’s definitely a need – a huge need – for adoption.”

Although getting Andrei and Artem to their new home and jumping through the hoops wasn’t easy, the decision to adopt was one that Halley said she will always be thankful they made.

“I’m glad we did it. It was the best thing for my children,” she said.