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Russia's proposed ban on US adoptions: What would it mean for orphans?

Children's rights advocates say there's nothing wrong with efforts to reduce international adoption – if those efforts are focused on strengthening families and encouraging domestic adoption. Russia, however, has a long way to go to find domestic families for its orphans.

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Orphan children have a meal at an orphanage in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, December 19. Russia's parliament initially approved a bill banning Americans from adopting Russian orphans on Wednesday in reprisal for a U.S. law punishing alleged Russian human rights violators in a row that has strained bilateral relations.

Vladimir Konstantinov/Reuters

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Russian President Vladimir Putin says he will sign a ban on US adoptions of Russian children – a move that would close off a major avenue by which orphans in that country find their way into families.

Supporters of the bill, passed by the parliament before Christmas, say it's designed to promote domestic adoption and to put an end to alleged endangerment of children by their adoptive parents in the United States. The bill is also a retaliatory measure, in response to an American law that imposes sanctions on Russian officials deemed to be human rights violators.

"I still don't see any reasons why I should not sign it," Mr. Putin said at a televised meeting Thursday, adding that he "intends" to do so.

But statistics suggest that the move might be putting politics above practicality, when it comes to finding alternatives for thousands of youngsters now growing up in institutions rather than in families. Children's rights advocates say there's nothing wrong with efforts to reduce international adoption – if those efforts are focused on strengthening families and encouraging domestic adoption. Russia, however, has a long way to go to find domestic families for its orphans.

About 120,000 orphans are listed as up for adoption in a Russian government database, while only 18,000 Russian families are signed up to become adoptive parents, according to numbers cited by The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and other sources.

"These children have already lost the chance to be adopted by a Russian family," before they are considered for US adoption, says Jennifer Phillips, an adoption supervisor at Lutheran Social Services in Rocky Hill, Conn. It's unclear, she says, whether Putin can succeed in getting more orphans placed with Russian families.

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