MOSCOW, April 30, 2010 -- In a meeting between Russian and U.S. officials on a new pact for adoptions of Russian children, Russia demanded greater monitoring of the children and the right to prosecute American parents who abuse those children.
Many adoptions are in limbo after a Tennessee woman sent her adopted 7-year-old son back to Moscow alone with a note in his pocket saying she didn't want to parent the boy anymore. A Pennsylvania couple was also charged this week with homicide in the death of another 7-year-old boy who had been adopted in Russia.
"We just need to have some safety guarantees for our kids which we send to adoption to the United States of America because right now without an agreement we don't have any possibility to check our children to know about their future and to make sure that everything is OK with our children," Pavel Astakhov, Kremlin's ombudsman for children's rights, told ABC News.
A State Department delegation described its discussion with Russian counterparts over a new agreement to govern adoptions of Russian children by Americans as "fruitful," but ongoing. The State Department wouldn't comment on Russia's request to pursue legal action against Americans beyond calling it "a complicated legal problem."
"We agree that we want to do what's best for children and we have formed a working group," Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Michael Kirby told reporters outside the Foreign Ministry on Thursday. He said that the talks will resume on May 12.
Astakhov said he expected an agreement very quickly, but warned that without one adoptions to the United States could grind to a halt.
"I think our parliament is ready to cancel it all, and make an amendment in family court and to prohibit foreign adoptions," Astakhov told ABC News. "I don't want it so, but it can be."
Though the U.S. is a signatory to the Hague Adoption Convention, the two countries don't have a bilateral legal agreement in place. Russia is the third largest source of adoptions for Americans after Ethiopia and China, with some 1,600 children adopted from Russia last year, according to the State Department.
Adoptions Slow Down But Continue Despite Suspension
Russia demanded this agreement and announced a suspension of adoptions to the U.S. after a Tennessee mother sent her 7-year-old adopted Russian son back to Moscow on a plane alone. Torry Hansen pinned a note to Artyom Savelyev – whom she renamed Justin Hansen – saying she no longer wished to parent the child, calling him "psychopathic."
President Dmitry Medvedev called Hansen's actions a "monstrous deed" in an interview with ABC News and on April 15 the Foreign Ministry announced a suspension of adoptions.
Adoptions continue despite the alleged suspension, largely due to the fact that the Ministry of Education and Science, not the Foreign Ministry, is in charge of adoptions. Many courts in Russia's regions continue to process applications and award children to families, while others await instructions from Moscow on how to proceed.
About 3,500 children are waiting to be adopted by American families, according to the Joint Council on International Children's Services. It's unclear how many cases have been affected, U.S. officials will only say there's been a slow down.
Lorraine and Pierce Fenelon arrived in Moscow from Boston as tensions flared between the U.S. and Russia and talk of a suspension began. It threw their plans to adopt 15 month-old Natasha into jeopardy after a 14 month process involving mountains of paperwork. Their last court appearance in Moscow was meant to be the final step.
"I was inconsolable," said Lorraine. "I couldn't even speak, I was just beyond upset."
Barbara and Rick Durig were preparing to leave their Minneapolis suburb for southern Russia to pick up three sisters aged 17, 11 and 9 when the Hansen scandal broke.
"I was just sick, absolutely sick," Rick said. "I listened on the news and I heard the headline and I could not believe what I was hearing. This was a mere two days after we had gotten our court date and we had gotten our firm travel date."
Despite the suspension, both the Durigs' and Fenelons' adoptions were completed.
Agreement Could Take Time
"The judge was amazing, not one word of reproach about Americans adopting Russians, not one hint that this was going on," said Lorraine Fenelon.
However, U.S. embassy consular officials in Moscow commented to the Fenelons that there was a marked decrease in the adoptions paperwork they are currently processing.
The Fenelons received Natasha's U.S. passport on Thursday and will head to Boston on Saturday. The Durigs are spending 10 days near the girls' orphanage, they will then bring them to Moscow to complete the paperwork and return home on May 15.
Artyom Savelyev, who turned 8 since arriving back to Russia, has been transferred from the hospital to where he has been staying and is being prepared to be placed with a foster family. Astakhov, the ombudsman, says Artyom has made friends and "feels fine."
American officials warn that drafting a new agreement could take some time, but Astakhov hopes it will be sooner rather than later.
"We'll continue our conversation, our negotiations on this issue and I hope and I really think we will do this agreement very quickly," he said.