Russian lawmakers overwhelmingly approved a bill Friday that tightens control over adoptions by foreigners, legislation that critics say could leave many orphans with no hope of finding a home.
The Duma, the parliament's lower house, voted 337-0 in favor of the bill, which is designed to encourage Russians to adopt more children.The measure must still be approved by parliament's upper house and President Boris Yeltsin before it becomes law. Neither has openly taken a position on the bill.
The Communist deputy who initiated the bill, Alevtina Aparina, says the restrictions are needed to better protect Russian children.
Communists and their hard-line allies who dominate the Duma accuse foreign agencies of bribing Russian officials to arrange illegal adoptions.
But adoption workers and human rights activists in Russia and abroad fear the legislation could discourage foreigners who wish to adopt Russian children.
Russian orphans far outnumber prospective Russian parents, a disparity the bill tries to correct by, among other things, calling for a unified computerized bank of data on eligible children.
While the bill's critics agree with that, they assail another provision that adoption procedures be codified in formal agreements between Russia and each country with prospective parents. They argue that would result in a bureaucratic quagmire that would effectively freeze most foreign adoptions.
Adoption advocates said the new bill might leave loopholes that would allow local officials to block adoptions.
"Some regional authorities are strongly against any adoptions by foreigners and they may use some vague clauses of the bill to stall them," said Boris Altshuller, a Russian human rights activist who runs the Child's Rights pro-adoption program.
He cited one recent example of officials in the Orenburg region in southern Ural Mountains banning U.S. citizens from adopting a hemophiliac child. "They would rather have him die in his native land than live on foreign soil," Altshuller said in a telephone interview.
According to parliamentary estimates, there are about 80 foreign adoption agencies, mostly American, operating in Russia, usually through Russian intermediaries.