Kristin M. Hall and Nataliya Vasilyeva
The Associated Press Published on Friday, Apr. 09, 2010 1:39PM EDT
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called the actions by the grandmother, Nancy Hansen of Shelbyville, “the last straw” in a string of U.S. adoptions gone wrong, including three in which Russian children had died in the United States. The cases have prompted outrage in Russia, where foreign adoption failures are reported with gusto.
The Russian education ministry immediately suspended the license of the group involved in the adoption — the World Association for Children and Parents, a Renton, Washington-based agency — for the duration of an investigation. In Tennessee, authorities were investigating the adoptive mother, Torry Hansen.
Any possible freeze could affect hundreds of American families. Last year, nearly 1,600 Russian children were adopted in the United States.
The boy, Artyom Savelyev, arrived unaccompanied in Moscow on a United Airlines flight on Thursday from Washington. Social workers sent him to a Moscow hospital on Friday for a health checkup and criticized his adoptive mother for abandoning him.
The Kremlin children's rights office said the boy was carrying a letter from his adoptive mother saying she was returning him due to severe psychological problems.
“This child is mentally unstable. He is violent and has severe psychopathic issues,” the letter said. “I was lied to and misled by the Russian Orphanage workers and director regarding his mental stability and other issues. ...
“After giving my best to this child, I am sorry to say that for the safety of my family, friends, and myself, I no longer wish to parent this child.”
The boy was adopted last September from the town of Partizansk in Russia's Far East.
Nancy Hansen, the grandmother, told The Associated Press that she and the boy flew to Washington and she put the child on the plane with the note from her daughter. She vehemently rejected assertions of child abandonment by Russian authorities, saying he was watched over by a United Airlines stewardess and the family paid a man $200 to pick the boy up at the Moscow airport and take him to the Russian Education and Science Ministry.
Speaking from the home in Shelbyville that she shares with her daughter, Nancy Hansen said a social worker checked on the boy in January and reported to Russian authorities that there were no problems. But after that, the grandmother said incidents of hitting, kicking, spitting began to escalate, along with threats.
“He drew a picture of our house burning down and he'll tell anybody that he's going to burn our house down with us in it,” she told The Associated Press in a phone interview. “It got to be where you feared for your safety. It was terrible.”
Nancy Hansen said she and her daughter, a single mother, went to Russia together to adopt the boy, and she believes information about his behavioural problems was withheld from her daughter.
“The Russian orphanage officials completed lied to her because they wanted to get rid of him,” Nancy Hansen said.
She also said the boy was very skinny when they picked him up, and he told them he had been beaten with a broom handle at the orphanage.
Russian state television on Friday showed the child in a yellow jacket holding the hands of two chaperones as he left a police precinct and entered a van bound for a Moscow medical clinic.
The U.S. ambassador to Russia, John Beyrle, said he was “deeply shocked by the news” and “very angry that any family would act so callously toward a child that they had legally adopted.”
Anna Orlova, a spokeswoman for Kremlin's Children Rights Commissioner, told The Associated Press that she visited the boy on Friday and he told her that his mother was “bad,” ”did not love him,“ and used to pull his hair.
Russian officials said he turned up at the door of the Russian Education and Science Ministry on Thursday afternoon accompanied by a Russian man who handed over the boy and his documents, then left, officials said. The child holds a Russian passport with a U.S. visa that expired April 4, Russian officials said.
Rob Johnson, a spokesman for the Tennessee Department of Children's Services, said the agency is looking into Friday's allegations, although it does not handle international adoptions.
Bedford County Sheriff Randall Boyce also said Torry Hansen is under investigation although no charges have been filed. Officers were expected to interview her Friday afternoon.
Mr. Lavrov said his ministry would recommend that the U.S. and Russia hammer out an agreement before any new adoptions are allowed.
“We have taken the decision ... to suggest a freeze on any adoptions to American families until Russia and the USA sign an international agreement” on the conditions for adoptions and the obligations of host families, Mr. Lavrov was quoted as saying.
He said the U.S. had refused to negotiate such an accord in the past but “the recent event was the last straw.”
Pavel Astakhov, the children rights commissioner, said in a televised interview Friday that a treaty is vital to protect Russian citizens in other countries.
“How can we prosecute a person who abused the rights of a Russian child abroad? If there was an adoption treaty in place, we would have legal means to protect Russian children abroad,” he said.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. adoption agency involved, the World Association for Children and Parents, did not immediately return telephone calls from The Associated Press.
Despite the uproar over adoptions, placing children inside Russia remains difficult. There are more than 740,000 children without parental custody in Russia, according to UNICEF, the United Nations Children's Fund.
United Airlines disavowed any responsibility for the international incident. The airline said it requires a parent or guardian dropping off a child for a flight to show an ID and to list who is picking the child up at the destination. The airline allows unaccompanied children as young as 5 years old on direct flights.
United spokeswoman Robin Urbanski said all unaccompanied minors on the flight that arrived Thursday in Moscow were picked up by the person listed on the form.
Previous adoption failures have increased Russian officials' wariness of adoptions to the U.S.
In 2006, Peggy Sue Hilt of Manassas, Virginia, was sentenced to 25 years in prison after being convicted of fatally beating a 2-year-old girl adopted from Siberia months earlier.
In 2008, Kimberly Emelyantsev of Tooele, Utah, was sentenced to 15 years after pleading guilty to killing a Russian infant in her care.
And in March of this year, prosecutors in Pennsylvania met with a Russian diplomats to discuss how to handle the case of a couple accused of killing their 7-year-old adopted Russian son at their home near the town of Dillsburg.