Advocating for the Child’s Human Right to Family


By: Elizabeth Bartholet

Important legislation has recently been introduced in Congress designed to transform the understanding of the rights of unparented children and relatedly of international adoption. This legislation amends the law governing the U.S. Department of State’s (DOS) annual reports on human rights violations. It requires that DOS consider for inclusion in future reports the violation of unparented children’s rights involved in shutting down international adoption and thus condemning children to ongoing institutionalization. For more information about this legislation, see

All those who believe in children’s rights to family, all those who decry the restrictions on international adoption that have denied many tens of thousands of children the nurturing parents they need, should devote their best efforts to supporting this proposed legislation. It represents an extraordinary opportunity to transform the understanding of child rights in ways that are essential to transforming policy – policy that has been enormously destructive of child rights and interests.

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Here’s a chance for left and right to agree: Lets give children a home.

Foster Friess: For orphans, family is a human right

Foster Friess 6 a.m. EDT October 17, 2013

Here’s a chance for left and right to agree: Lets give children a home.

Daddy and twins.(Photo: Elaine Thompson, AP)

Story Highlights
  • Every child should at least grow up in family, rather than without one.
  • The United Nations reports that more than 18 million children worldwide have lost both parents
  • Allocate foreign aid based on pro-adoption efforts in other nations.

It can be tough to find areas where left and right can agree. Consider the well-being of children: Americans often disagree about how to raise kids, how to educate them, even what to feed them.

So how about we start seeking common ground at a more basic level? Every child should at least grow up in family, rather than without one.

This is so obvious that we don’t think about it much. But for many children a family is something they do not know. The United Nations Children’s Fund reports that more than 18 million children worldwide have lost both parents to the ravages of AIDS, starvation, war or natural disasters.

Yet adoptions by U.S. families of children from other countries fell by over 62% in the last eight years. This is not due to lack of American demand. Would-be adoptive parents have to struggle for years through a bureaucratic obstacle course at an average cost of $30,000.

Many foreign governments allow children to languish for years in severely compromised lifestyles. The U.S. State Department is not only of little help but often contributes to the long delays.

Seeing this problem, my friend Craig Juntunen started the adoption activist group Both Ends Burning. This year, they released STUCK, a documentary revealing how we are neglecting the human rights of millions of orphans.

After a 60-city, 72-day bus tour brought the gripping film around the country, liberals and conservatives alike joined the cause.

Now, that nationwide spirit of cooperation migrates to the halls of Congress. Louisiana’s Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu introduced legislation called Children in Families First, or CHIFF. Sen. Roy Blunt, a Missouri Republican, has signed on to the bill along with many others in both houses, from both parties.

The goal: to get children into families, whether it’s the birth family, relatives, a household in the child’s birth country or an American couple.

Without increasing spending, the law creates a prominent State Department office advocating for vulnerable foreign children, making their welfare a key part of U.S. foreign policy. It would allow State to allocate foreign aid based on pro-adoption efforts in other nations. Countries that drag their feet, quite common currently, could lose a lot of money.

As Sen. Landrieu has said , she wants to ensure that the United States advocates for family preservation, family reunification and, when necessary, family creation through adoption.

And when the only good option for children is to join American families, her proposal ensures that U.S. immigration law makes the process as easy as possible.

Whatever your other convictions, we can all agree that children belong in families. Not only will CHIFF help children in need, but it provides our children with an example of cooperation and civility between left and right — two things we urgently need to do.

Foster Friess, a fund manager turned philanthropist, started

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U.N. Urges Morocco Crackdown on Child Labor

w460 The U.N. children’s fund on Thursday called for "major mobilization" in Morocco against the phenomenon of child labor after a young house maid died from burns in the southern coastal resort of Agadir.

The Moroccan teenager died after suffering serious burns to her hands and face, an NGO said on Tuesday, adding that her employer is in police custody.

The case "relates to a girl, aged between 15 and 17, who worked as the house maid of a couple and who died on Sunday," said Omar el-Kindi, president of the NGO Insaf, confirming media reports.

"This drama adds to a series of similar terrible events," UNICEF said on Thursday.

It recalled its "strong condemnation of child labor" and urged "major mobilization for an end to this phenomenon of ‘little maids.’"

"We consider young girls doing domestic work to be one of the worst forms of child exploitation," said Morocco’s UNICEF representative, Aloys Kamuragiye.

Last November, Human Rights Watch called on Moroccan authorities to put an end to the recruitment and exploitation of child domestic workers.

It said girls as young eight were being recruited as maids, frequently beaten, verbally abused and sometimes refused adequate food by their employers.

A bill outlawing the employment of minors as domestic workers has been proposed but not yet been voted through parliament.

"The draft law on domestic labor could offer a beginning in legal protection to end children working as maids," the UNICEF statement said, and encouraged "the government and parliament to speed up its adoption."

The U.N. body also urged Moroccans themselves to change the practice. Reports say that between 60,000 and 80,000 young girls work as maids in the north African country.


An Adoption Law Only King Herod Would Sign

By Victor Davidoff |

After the State Duma passed a bill banning adoptions by Americans, journalist Valery Panyushkin wrote on Facebook, “I know of only two organizations in the world that scare their enemies by harming their own children: Hamas and the United Russia party.”

As a child welfare activist in addition to being a journalist, Panyushkin knows better than most how disastrous the situation is for Russia’s orphans. Today, more than 100,000 orphans live in state institutions, and about 11,000 are adopted in Russia every year. Children with cerebral palsy, other genetic conditions and HIV have it worst of all. Their chances of being adopted in Russia are nil. They are often denied basic care and grow up unable to speak or communicate. As  children’s rights activist Ksenia Fisher wrote on Twitter, “The last time I was in an orphanage, I remember what the kids with disabilities said. They all dream of being adopted by Americans. Otherwise, no one will take them.”

It is also well-known that the chances a child will die after being adopted by a family in Russia are almost 40 times higher than if adopted by a family in the West. In just a few days, more than 100,000 people signed a petition asking the Duma to vote against the ban. There was even opposition to the ban among some United Russia deputies, and the Kremlin was compelled to take unprecedented tough measures to tame their unruly deputies to vote for the ban. The deputies were given an ultimatum: Vote for the law or be ousted from the faction and lose your parliamentary seat. Deputy Alexander Sidyakin abstained, and he was asked to write a note explaining that the electronic voting system at his seat “broke.” Sidyakin refused and is now awaiting the party’s decision on whether his seat will be taken away.

That wasn’t the only dramatic moment in the debates. Vyacheslav Osipov, another United Russia deputy, had chest pains and didn’t attend the voting. But he left his electronic voting card with another party member. His colleague voted for him, and Osipov’s vote for the ban was duly registered. The twist was that by the time deputies cast their votes, Osipov had already died of a heart attack. Even the most rational mind would see a bad omen in a blessing from a dead man.

In the Russian blogosphere, the law was quickly dubbed “the law of scoundrels” and “the law of King Herod.” As television journalist Alexander Arkhangelsky wrote on his LiveJournal blog: “You can argue about whether the Magnitsky Act is good or bad. But you can’t argue about whether or not our orphaned children should be adopted by families that live in the country that passed the Magnitsky Act. Children are above political interests, sovereignty and citizenship. Any response that uses these children leads to dehumanization.”

The reaction of the country’s liberals could be predicted, but it was surprising to hear negative reactions from people who never disagree with the government. Even some members of the Russian Orthodox Church’s high clergy expressed criticism. On the Web portal “Orthodoxy and the World,” Bishop Panteleimon of Smolensk and Vyazemsk wrote: “It is unacceptable to make decisions that affect children based on political trends. All the laws passed by the government must be based on the interests of people. For the sake of people’s interests, you can even sacrifice the prestige of the state.”

Even more surprising was the opinion of Kremlin-loyal television commentator Mikhail Leontyev, whose anti-Americanism on a scale of one to 10 is a solid 11. Nonetheless, Leontyev came out against the law on his Odnako blog. While not renouncing his standard anti-U.S. rhetoric, he reasonably noted that “there are certainly problems with American adoptions, but not with American adoption in and of itself. Through these adoptions, about 50,000 children have gotten the help, care and love that they couldn’t have gotten in their homeland.”

Although passage of the law was formally motivated by concern for the health and well-being of adopted children, few deputies hid that their real goal was punishing the U.S. Liberal Democratic Party Deputy Sergei Ivanov made this very clear in his statement to the protesters: “We have a huge number of ill-wishers abroad. With this law, we can stop their activities in Russia.”

Just Russia Deputy Svetlana Goryacheva had an even more exotic justification for supporting the law. According to her theory, the U.S. is using these children to form an army to invade Russia. In her speech in the Duma on Wednesday, Goryacheva said that “60,000 children have been taken to the U.S. from Russia. And if even one-tenth of these orphans were used for organ transplants or sexual pleasure, there will remain 50,000 who can be recruited for war against Russia.” Josef Stalin would have applauded that speech with loud cheers of “bravo!”

Indeed, the Soviet government forbade foreign adoptions. They were first allowed during the warming of relations with the U.S. during the last years of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s rule. It looks like Putin’s time machine, set in motion at the start of his third term, is returning the country to that era. In the past year, inch by inch, Putin has been rebuilding parts of the iron curtain, creating obstacles to free flow of information and personal contacts. On the same day the law on adoptions was passed, the Duma also ratified a law prohibiting people with dual citizenship from heading Russian nongovernmental organizations. It is widely believed that this measure was taken against two people: Lyudmila Alexeyeva, who heads the Moscow Helsinki Group, and Tatyana Lokshina, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Moscow office.

Grigory Yavlinsky, a leader of the Yabloko party, wrote on his LiveJournal blog: “This law not only is cruel but also speaks of the Bolshevik nature and Stalinist roots of the Russian political system. This is capitalism with a Stalinist face.”

Now the only question is: How far back into the dark days of the Soviet Union will Putin’s time machine lead the country?

Victor Davidoff is a Moscow-based writer and journalist who follows the Russian blogosphere in his biweekly column.

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