WASHINGTON -- The United States and Russia ended an ugly dispute over the abuse of adopted Russian children on Wednesday, with Washington agreeing to investigate reports of maltreatment and increase oversight of adopting families.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov signed the accord in a ceremony in Washington. It is a response to the furor created last year when an adoptive mother from Tennessee sent her 7-year-old boy unaccompanied on a plane back to Moscow because she didn't want to be his mother anymore.
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"We take very seriously the safety and security of children that are adopted by American parents," Clinton told reporters. "This agreement provides new important safeguards to protect them. It also increases transparency for all parties involved in the adoption process."
The deal stipulates that agencies can operate in Russia only with the authorization of the country's government, except in cases where a child is being adopted by relatives. Better information will also be provided to prospective parents about the social and medical histories of children.
Russia demanded the agreement after the uproar sparked when Artyom Savelyev was sent back from his adoptive home in Tennessee in April 2010. Savelyev's adoptive mother refused to allow a social worker into the house less than a month before the boy was returned with a note saying she no longer wanted to be his mother because the child had psychological problems, according to authorities.
The incident outraged Russia, for years one of the biggest sources of adopted children for Americans. But adoptions have fallen steadily from Russia after a string of abuse cases prompted Russian officials to demand tighter control or warn of a complete suspension. They dropped by more than 500 last year to 1,082, leaving Russians behind Chinese and Ethiopian kids as third most adopted.
Some international adoption proceedings in Russia were slowed in response, but there was no complete halt to adoptions by Americans. That caused some concern the tighter regulations might cause potential adoptive parents to look toward other countries and leave more Russian children at the mercy of underfunded and overcrowded orphanages.
"We want all children, whether they be Russian children or American children, to be able to have loving homes with families that will take good care of them," Clinton said.
Lavrov said the agreement would help counter growing public anger over the fate of Russian children in the United States. Speaking through an interpreter, he thanked the U.S. for its work toward finding a solution.
Russian officials have claimed that at least 17 adopted Russian children have died in domestic violence in American families.
Earlier this month, local media reported that a central Pennsylvania couple accused of killing their adopted Russian son won't face the death penalty if convicted. Police say the child had a traumatic brain injury, about 80 external injuries and was malnourished when he died in 2009, but the parents say the boy repeatedly hurt himself and that they provided him with sufficient medical care.