NEW YORK — U.S.-based advocates of international adoption, who have grown accustomed to discouraging news in recent years, have a new cause for dismay: A bill moving through Russia's parliament would bar Americans from adopting Russian children.
The measure, which won overwhelming approval Friday in the lower house of parliament, is retaliation for a new U.S. law imposing sanctions on Russians deemed to be violators of human rights.
"It's two countries duking it out," said Adam Pertman of the Donaldson Adoption Institute. "The adults are playing politics, and it's unfortunate to the extreme that children are being used as pawns."
The fate of the bill is uncertain. It needs approval by parliament's upper house and by President Vladimir Putin. Yet already it has added to an array of controversies and policy changes that have muddled the image of international adoption in the U.S.
Adoptions from abroad seemed to be on a perpetual upswing but peaked at 22,884 in 2004 and have declined steadily since then to 9,319 in 2011, because of factors ranging from corruption and fraud to nationalist pride.
In the case of Russia, UNICEF estimates that it has more than 700,000 orphans and abandoned children. More than 60,000 of them have been adopted by Americans over the past 20 years, but the annual figure has plummeted from 5,862 in 2004 to 962 in 2011.
Chuck Johnson, CEO of the National Council for Adoption, said there is a faction of Russian politicians who have long-term antipathy toward foreign adoptions and have seized upon the pending bill as a vehicle for their cause.
"The Russian Duma is ignoring the many thousands of very happy children who have been adopted by loving U.S. families," Mr. Johnson said. "The bottom line is children should not fall victim to senseless politicking."
Among the adoption advocates who have been following the Moscow events closely is Alexander D'Jamoos, a 21-year-old sophomore at the University of Texas.
Mr. D'Jamoos, who was born without legs, grew up in one of the many Russian orphanages that accommodate children with disabilities. In 2006, at age 15, he was flown to Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children in Dallas, where physicians fitted him with prosthesis to enable him to walk.
The Dallas couple who had agreed to host him temporarily, Helene and Michael D'Jamoos, became so fond of him that they proceeded to adopt him in 2007. Since then, the young man climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, became a talented skier, and is pursuing studies in government, international relations and Russian.
He has been following the progress of the proposed adoption ban in Russia with growing anger.
"It uses children as a tool for political demagoguery," he said. "It's extremely insensitive to children in Russia who've spent their whole lives in those orphanages, and insulting to the happy families here in the U.S. who have adopted Russian children."