More foreigners are taking advantage of Ukraine's transparent new adoption laws, but officials hope trend won't catch too much momentum in wake of earlier scandals
k home 1,138 Ukrainian children in 1999, almost double the amount they adopted in 1998 and up from a scant 14 in 1996, the year the government lifted a ban on foreign adoptions.
While Ukraine's growing popularity as a source of children is good news for child-seeking foreigners, many of whom face years-long wait lists to adopt in their home countries, it does not make Tamara Kurko particularly happy.
Kurko is the director of Ukraine's National Adoption Center. For her, the rise in foreign adoptions is a mixed blessing, because it means there are fewer and fewer Ukrainian parents adopting.
"We prefer national adoptions over foreign adoptions," she said, adding that United Nations procedure dictates that children should go to foreigners only if there is not enough interest from domestic families.
"Every country has to do everything to leave children where they are." she said.
Kurko's concern about foreign adoptions may run deeper, however. The bitter aftertaste of several adoption scandals involving foreigners in the early-mid 1990s still lingers in Ukraine, and officials across the country are still leery of another foreign invasion of the country's orphanages.
Ukraine banned foreign adoptions outright in 1993 following widespread concern over the high number of children being sought by foreigners. In the early 1990s, adoption in Ukraine was simple: Foreign and local parents alike needed only three documents and the approval of oblast authorities.
Not only was it easy, it was also subject to fraud. For the right price, state adoption agents were more than willing to alter documents to enable the adoption of children legally ineligible for adoption.
"In almost all adoption processes there was a falsification," said Irina Targulova, who works for parliament's human rights commission.
One of the most well known cases came to light in 1995 when Ukrainian law enforcement authorities unearthed a baby smuggling ring in Lviv. Courts later found two doctors and two officials guilty of falsifying documents in close to 135 adoptions between 1992 and 1994. Statistics such as the age of the children, the status of their health and other factors that could have nullified their eligibility for adoption were altered so that foreigners could take them.
Although it was widely suspected that bribes played a large role in all 135 cases, prosecutors are still trying to prove illicit money transactions occurred. Recently, Lviv doctor Volodymyr Doroshcnenko was found to have taken $3,000 from a French couple in 1992 for altering the documents of a young infant so that the baby appeared as an adoption-eligible four-year-old boy.
When the government lifted the ban in 1996, it introduced a number of measures designed to prevent abuse. It set up the National Adoption Center and introduced a more detailed accounting method. Kurko's agency keeps organized lists of children eligible to be adopted and parents wishing to adopt. All adoptions must be registered at the National Adoption Center and prospective adopters face a mandatory court trial to determine whether they make suitable parents.
The new law is careful to favor locals over foreigners. To be declared eligible for adoption by foreigners, children must first go through a 14-month period during which they are only available for adoption by Ukrainian parents. This law can be bypassed if the children have health problems.
The whole process of adopting a child in Ukraine is free - the only fee is for the court hearing and that is "kopecks," Kurko said.
Today, foreign couples like Americans Chris and Lenae Haas are benefiting from Ukraine's transparent new laws.
The Haas couple had little success with adoption in the United States, where demand for adoptable children outstrips supply by a good margin. In Ukraine they adopted two healthy children through a process that took just four months.
The process started in the United States. After undergoing a Home Study analysis, which declared them suitable parents, and spending several exhausting weeks filling out the necessary U.S. paperwork and legal forms, they arrived in Ukraine.
Once here they hooked up with the Carolina Hope Christian Adoption Agency, an organization they had discovered in the United States. The agency led them to a city orphanage in Kharkiv, where they were shown several children available for adoption. They ended up choosing not just one child, but two - Anna and Jesse, both 2 years of age.
"Our life will never be the same again," said Chris Haas.
It remains to be seen whether the new adoption laws will help Ukraine lick the problem of illicit baby trafficking.
Nikolay Golomsha, assistant prosecutor in Chernovtsy region, has yet to see the end of baby smuggling in Ukraine. He recounts how a young girl recently approached him explaining that her Syrian boyfriend had left their baby in Syria.
The girl allowed her boyfriend to take the child to his homeland with the understanding that she would soon follow. But he returned to Ukraine, minus the baby. An investigation revealed that the baby had been given to the boyfriend's childless brother. A letter to the Syrian Embassy is being drafted but in the meantime the baby is still in Syria.
"There are still a lot of ways around the adoption laws," Golomsha said.
Post Correspondent Jennifer Anderson contributed to this report.
On the Web: For information on U.S. citizens adopting a child in Ukraine, go to the U.S. Embassy Web site at www.usemb.kiev.ua/consular/Adoptions