A Russian-born boy with his American adoptive father in Washington, DC, in 2011. Russia is seeking to ban US citizens from adopting Russian children.
Credit: Chip Somodevilla

Russia's lower house of parliament has passed a bill that bans Americans from adopting Russian children, despite criticism from human rights groups.

Lawmakers voted overwhelming in favor of the ban, RIA Novosti reported, with 420 ballots for and just seven against.

That means it now has the State Duma's final approval, after winning preliminary approval on Wednesday.

The bill will go before the upper legislative chamber next week, and from there to President Vladimir Putin. He has already indicated he will sign it into law.

The legislation forbids American and Russian agencies alike from organizing and carrying out US adoptions.

Yet it also has political implications. According to Amnesty International, the bill will equally allow the government to "arbitrarily stop activities and freeze the assets of NGOs that they consider to be involved in political activities, receive funding from US citizens or organizations or conduct activities threatening the interests of the Russian Federation."

It further forbids anyone with dual Russian and US citizenship from working for NGOs based in Russia, which could be closed down if they are found to employ any such person.

Amnesty said the effect on Russian civil society would be "chilling."

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Moscow initially presented the legislation as a measure to protect vulnerable adopted children – 19 of whom have died in the care of American families since the mid-1990s, Russian officials say.

The bill is named after one such child, Dima Yakovlev, who died in 2008 at the age of 21 months after his adoptive father left him unattended in an overheated car.

As this Christian Science Monitor report from April 2007 makes clear, Russia has long been debating prohibitionary measures (a ban on all foreign adoptions was proposed, and rejected, in early 2007, the Monitor says).

Yet the drive gained new momentum, and a specific anti-US focus, after the passing of the Magnitsky Act in the US earlier this month. The law bars Russian citizens suspected of human rights abuses from entry to the US.

President Putin yesterday called the adoption ban an "emotional" but "appropriate" response to the "unfriendly" Magnitsky Act.

"Adoptions are THE political football that Russia always throws when it has an axe to grind with the US," the director of one US adoption agency told RIA Novosti. "It's all about trying to go after the weak."

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