Here is the interview with the SDA director.
IF YOU ARE ADOPTING FROM UKRAINE: Pay attention to this!
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"Adoption Department is under terrific pressure” – says Liudmila Volynets
Head of the Ukraine’s State Department for Adoption informs about progress and problems of this government agency
Ministry of Ukraine for Family, Youth and Sport is currently summing up the results of National Adoption Support Year. The Minister in charge Yuri Pavlenko is proud to state that the number of adopted children has finally exceeded the number of bereaved ones
According to the year results, 19,554 of orphaned children and children devoid of parental care have found families. It was in the year 2008, that the number of children adopted by citizens of Ukraine climbed above two thousand; fourteen of them were HIV-positive. "These children have finally implemented their right to be upbrought in Ukrainian families” – observed Pavlenko. “The ministry staff feel hopeful that the positive trend remains unchanged, and they have a good reason for that: nearly a thousand and five hundred applications have lately been filed by the Ukrainians, intending to adopt.”
Besides, it would be instructive to recall that last year the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine voted in favour of the amendments to the law “On the State Aid to Families with Children” and “On the Introduction of Amendments to Certain Legislative Acts”. This law provides a lump-sum benefit of 12, 240 hryvnias for the adopting family; the same amount of money is usually paid as a first child maternity grant. The Cabinet of Ministers has also established a work procedure to be followed by guardianship and custody bodies as they promote and safeguard the rights of children; as well as the procedure for adoption and the subsequent monitoring of the adopted children’s rights implementation. As a result, on and after the 1st of December the adoption procedure substantially changed. Among the most welcome changes is the access to information on children who are available for adoption. The law stipulates that the information has to be disseminated through mass media in order to make it accessible for the public. The categories of children available for adoption have also been clearly determined, the legal basis and relevant documents have been specified. And furthermore, officials at all levels are now personally liable for every particular child’s destiny.
Sure enough, the Department staff speak not only of the accomplishments, but also of problems. For instance, some officials and public figures extensively criticize the measures taken by the government as well as the state policy in the field of children’s rights protection. But most of the trouble has been caused by middlemen, who allegedly help foreign families to adopt Ukrainian children and charge $30,000-$50,000 for their services. This is precisely what gives rise to talk of public officers’ supposedly corrupt practice. “They come to the Department and make impudent demands. The system that appears to have been formed in the early nineties has penetrated deep into the country and affected boarding schools, orphanages and maternity hospitals”- says Yuri Pavlenko. But international adoption can by no means be prohibited! There have been numerous examples of foreign families giving no less than a new life and new opportunities to special needs children with severe disabilities. “However, we clearly give a higher priority to the national adoption”- goes on the minister. “If a foreign family and a Ukrainian one are willing to adopt one and the same child, the preference will decidedly be given to the citizens of Ukraine. This is what a moratorium year is meant for. Therefore, according to statistics we have no children less than three years old available for adoption. Foreign families adopt either children over 7 years old or severely disabled ones.”
Liudmila Volynets, the head of the State Department for Adoption and Protection of Children’s Rights, tells that the Hague Convention would be a great benefit in the matter of a full-fledged protection for children adopted by foreign families, and counteraction to corrupt middlemen. Unfortunately, the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine has already three times failed to ratify the Hague Convention.
Liudmila Semenovna, the National Adoption Support Year has already elapsed. What kind of a year was it for you?
The year results are habitually evaluated in figures, and we have positively succeeded in making these figures grow; yet I here would like to mention something entirely different. My primary objective is to make changes in mass consciousness of Ukrainian society; that is to alter people’s attitude about children who got into trouble and to develop their willingness to help. I am sure that all Ukrainians have become changed people in the course of past three years. Incidentally, “The All-Ukrainian Forum of Adoptive Parents" was there to persuade the public that there are people who are prepared to voluntarily commit themselves to giving orphans care and upbringing, and they are not scarce. It may be said that we are not the kind of people we sometimes seem to be. There are so many good people among us! We do have something to be proud about. Hence that is the major result of the year for me. Actually, as we held an opinion poll, it has been found that 14% of Ukrainians think themselves ready to adopt orphans into their families. Many of them are friends and acquaintances of people who have already made this important move. And it means that the more children are adopted and fostered, the more families are willing to adopt. It could be compared to a stone dropped into a pool of water generating many circular waves. Yet I regret to say that we have not exactly been successful in inspiring people to openly speak about the adoption of a child and the other people to look with favour on this fact. Meanwhile, we are unable to escape the absurd known as adoption secrecy.
This is exactly what I wanted to ask: does the adoption secrecy still exist? Are the guardianship authorities obliged to monitor the life of adopted children in their new families?
Adoption secrecy law is still in place. Adoptive parents have the right to preserve adoption secrecy, yet they may decide for themselves whether to keep it or not. Unlike parents, the officials are obliged to keep the information secret. Meanwhile, it makes families’ monitoring easier. For instance, a District Education Department representative can come and see a demonstration lesson. While sitting in class, the child will have no notion that it's him or her who this person has come to look at. Therefore, one needs to understand the way monitoring is performed. And we teach this understanding to public employees.
Minister Yuri Pavlenko spoke lately about pressure that is being put on you personally by people who deem the state’s adoption policy inadequate.
I can not discuss the matter at this very moment. Yet I have already filed a lawsuit to defend my hohour, dignity and professional reputation.
That means the pressure does exist, am I right?
Yes, you are. There is terrific pressure. Nevertheless, I would rather not give actual examples as long as each of the parties should be able to speak their respective minds, but I would like to highlight that the pressure is appalling. To begin with, the pressure is being exerted by foreign citizens that come to Ukraine to adopt a child. Their infertility has caused them a lot of suffering, so they are desperate to take action; they have travelled a long way to Ukraine and they must needs adopt. Still, they are often not very well prepared for the adoption and set forth fanciful conditions. And the children who have been orphaned and need to be adopted are not able to comply with their demands. For example, last week we received a family from Netherlands; they came to Ukraine to adopt twin boys less than three years old. According to their ideas, we were obliged to find them by any means. This example is the most telling one, it reveals that the prospective adoptive parents do not very well comprehend that we are not to be subject to their whims. Our Department’s primary objective is to find a family for the child, not a child for the family. Unfortunately, we have to spend most of our working hours on these wishes-to-be-met rather than work.
Another source of pressure comes from the family members that stay at home; they understand that in Ukraine young and healthy children are not available for adoption by foreigners, so they make the situation more difficult by encouraging the prospective parents to put forward demands, file complaints and brawl in order to attain their aim. All this continual instigation is downright unpleasant.
Officials are also putting pressure on the Department, aren't they?
I can show you a letter from the USA Ambassador in Ukraine; I received it through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I take it only as being pressed. Call it what you will, but when one receives a complaint being him- or herself the object of that complaint and being asked to take adequate measures – I call it pressure. The fact of the matter is that a voter turned to Senator M. MacConnell (the name of the voter being not specified) complaining of the Department administration’s prejudiced position towards the USA citizens. “According to his opinion, the present administration has set unfair limits so as not to let American citizens adopt Ukrainian children deprived of parental care,” – says the letter. The mentioned limits, though, have been established by law; specifically the law that limits the maximum age gap between the adopted child and the adoptive parent. The Ambassador goes on to say that against this background and inasmuch as repeated complaints have been filed by American citizens about inefficiency of the international adoption procedure, it should be mentioned that the represented facts do not contribute to the Ukraine’s positive image abroad. Mr. Ambassador has apparently failed to understand that debating current laws of Ukraine is beyond his scope of jurisdiction; we are to obey the law and not to discuss it. It is also not correct to write a letter of this kind omitting the name of the complaining person, since I am not given the opportunity to verify the made statements as to their correspondence to facts. How can I consider the problem and inform the Embassy of the obtained results?
Hence follows another important question: why do you think the Verkhovna Rada repeatedly fails to ratify the Hague Convention?
Ukraine lived through times (in the years 1994-1996)when it was found out that many children had been taken away from the country and no further information as to their whereabouts was available. As a result, moratorium was imposed on international adoption; some members of Ukrainian Parliament remember those times. I think this is the reason they are afraid of making changes, so as not to, God forbid, make matters worse. Sure enough, avoiding changes we shall aggravate the situation and make it even nastier than it was in mid-nineties. It must be understood that there is a procedure accepted by the global community! The Convention opponents keep assuring that pressure from the adopting countries will immediately follow. Aren’t we experiencing it now? Of course we are. We will feel pressure as long as the international adoption exists; any country unable to take care of its children will put them up for international adoption.
It should also be remembered that consideration of a draft law may be initiated only once over the Parliament convocation period. It failed to secure the necessary vote in 2006, but the Convention still has a chance since a new Parliament was elected in 2007.
So when will the Hague Convention be ratified after all?
The President has already introduced the law in draft for consideration of the Parliament. If the lawmakers get their work properly done, the law will be passed by the parliament in two or three months; Order of the Cabinet of Ministers will then be issued in another six months. And we would most like to make our way into the new decade with the new adoption procedure.
Is the middlemen’s access to the Department limited now?
Unfortunately, it is not. This kind of activity is permitted by article 243 of the Civil Code; as long as the article remains in its place, there’s no restraining them.
Have any middlemen been punished for their malpractice?
Everything is just on the contrary, they file complaints against us. Middlemen are individual persons and are therefore better protected than public officers.
Have any public officials been punished for bribetaking?
There was an episode of this kind in Kherson region. The judge of the Kherson Dneprovsky Court took a bribe and was caught red-handed by officers of the Security Service of Ukraine. Previously we received a claim from adoptive parents that money was being squeezed from them. It happened so that she was acquitted. Nevertheless, the public prosecutor who took part in that court session has already filed a cassation petition to the Supreme Court in order to falsify the judgement.
Do adoptive parents often report bribe demands?
There are more complaints against middlemen, than against public officers; most of the complaints are filed by foreign citizens. Consequently, if any case of corrupt practice becomes known to someone, this person should not hesitate to address his or her complaints to our Department. Yet foreigners often speak neither Ukrainian nor Russian language, so they cannot file a complaint. It usually happens like this: the Department employees say one thing; the middlemen translate for the foreigners something entirely different. The middlemen sometimes do not inform the adoptive parents of the child’s disabilities, or vice versa – present the child as a disabled one. In such a manner they present a diseased or disabled child as a healthy one, or hold the child for some other family.
Do you know these middlemen by sight?
They are always there at the Department door! They have become a part of our employees’ everyday life. Whereas the Hague Convention ratification would give us the basis for amending the legislation of Ukraine. We need adequate laws and time so as to establish order and eliminate the abnormal profits drawn by middlemen. They assure the foreigners that the money is needed for “communication" with public officers, but I am certain that no corrupt practice can ever be exercised in the State Department for Adoption and Protection of Children’s Rights.
“I pray because I can't help myself. I pray because I'm helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time- waking and sleeping. It doesn't change God- it changes me.”
― C. S. Lewis
― C. S. Lewis
I believe in the sun even when it's not shining. I believe in love even when I don't feel it. And I believe in God even when He is silent. (quote found on the wall of a concentration camp)
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