Family's Adoption Hopes Stalled by President's Remarks

When Anne Zakkour and her husband Sam learned they wouldn't be allowed to adopt the two toddlers they had held and bonded with and flown across the world for, she said "it felt like a vacuum sucked everything out of us."

The Zakkours, who live outside Dayton, Ohio, had spent a year preparing to adopt two children from the small Eastern European nation of Belarus. Anne even left her job as a nurse so she could spend more time with the youngsters.

Zakkour, her husband and their 9-year-old son had flown to Belarus to see about adopting a little boy and girl from an orphanage in Minsk, the nation's capital. The government had even invited them to come in order to explore the adoption process.

But then they became the apparent victims of a crackdown by the country's president Aleksandr Lukashenko on adoption of Belarusian children by foreigners, which he called a national disgrace.

"Our children should be brought up and educated in Belarus," Lukashenko said. "Adoption by foreigners should be maximally reduced."

The Zakkours, along with three other families that went to Minsk at the same time to adopt children, believe they fell victim to the president's crackdown.

"The four of us were over there, we all touched and held our kids and bonded with them," she said. "The day we went to court we were told we weren't being denied, we were just told that the adoptions were suspended."

Reacting to Adoption Horror Stories

The fate of children adopted by Americans and other foreigners from Belarus, Russia and other Eastern European countries has recently become a hot topic. Many there have been angered by media reports of adopted youngsters being abused or slain by their new parents, as well as by concerns about human trafficking and declining populations in some of those countries.

A woman in Illinois was recently convicted in the death of a 6-year-old boy she had just adopted from Russia weeks earlier, and earlier this month a North Carolina woman, Peggy Sue Hilt, 33, was charged with murder in the death of the 2-year-old Russian girl she had adopted.

"These cases of Russian children in America impressed the Belarusian people," said Andrei Kozhan, first secretary at the Belarus embassy in Washington. "That was not helpful as far as adoption of children abroad."

There have also been cases of children from Ukraine and Russia who were adopted by foreigners who turned out to be human traffickers, Kozhan said.

Population Problem

The larger issue, however, is the sheer number of Belarusian children who have been adopted by foreigners. Since Belarus gained independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, some 1,000 children have been adopted by Americans and another 1,500 by Italians.

"It's not a small figure, for a small country like Belarus," Kozhan said.

So the Belarusian government adopted new regulations that Kozhan said would give preference to native families seeking adoptions over foreigners, and would require adoptive parents to report to Belarusian authorities on the children's welfare for five years, instead of three.

But the new policies have been a nightmare for families like the Zakkours. Anne Zakkour said all she and her husband want to do is give a good home to two children who need one. They also said they are ready to meet any requirement that Belarus sets, because of the love they feel for the two youngsters they met at the orphanage in Minsk.

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