Because, quite simply, the full story is a little tough to take. People don’t want to know. In Russia and many other places in the world, having a child with special needs is stigmatized beyond anything we Americans can understand. There are no special programs for children with special needs, no special inclusion laws, and nothing like the rights afforded us in the Americans With Disabilities Act. Last month, the US tried to ratify an United Nations treaty that would help bring the world up to our standard, based on our own ADA, but it was blocked and eventually defeated by misguided politicians who believed that even though the treaty had no enforcement mechanism, our sovereignty was at stake. My heart hurt when that treaty was defeated. It wouldn’t have changed a damn thing in this country. But it would have helped people with disabilities in other countries. It would have worked to destigmatize disability in developing countries.
In Russia, because there are no special programs for these children, they are housed in orphanages until they “age out”. When Americans think of “aging out” they think of 18 year old kids who have been in foster care; who have received an education, or were supposed to, and are sent out into the world. Our system isn’t perfect either, but in Russia, aging out means something completely different. For children with special needs like autism, Down syndrome or Cerebral Palsy, they “age out” of orphanages, usually around 4 or 5, and are sent to adult mental institutions. These kids receive very little care, and most die within a year. They die chained to cribs, their head shaved, cold and alone.
I know no one wants to know these things. But hiding our heads in the sand doesn’t help anyone. There are so many people out there who have been working tirelessly to raise funds to bring these children home. I have friends who are ready, who have their court date, to adopt these kids. They’ve spent months raising money, getting home studies done, and jumping through the hoops to save these children- their children- who have names and places in their homes. These children have met their would-be parents, have pictures of them and promises that they will return for them.
No more. The Russian government, in true King Herod style, has thrown it’s most vulnerable under the bus because they’re mad at legislation passed in the United States earlier this month. The legislation sanctions people who have committed human rights violations from Russia from traveling to the United States or owning real estate here.
Some want to argue that it’s because of the high profile cases of Americans who have adopted children from Russia where things have gone wrong. 19 children who were adopted from Russia have died in American homes since 1990. That’s not right. But that’s out of the 60,000 that have been adopted in the same time. That number, 19, is less than the amount of children that die in orphanages or institutions EACH DAY in Russia.
I’m sad. I’m mad. And I feel powerless. I think about the children I have met that were brought home last year from Russia. Around 1,000 kids were adopted from Russia last year. I had the opportunity to get to know the families of several of those children. I’ve watched as these children, now in families that ADORE them, grow, learn and light up the lives of those around them. They truly are lights.
My heart goes out to the families who now can’t get to their kids. I can’t even begin to imagine the pain they are feeling right now. When the bill was signed, it was as if I felt the cries of those children from within me. Cries that an evil and corrupt government do no here. Or care to hear. Cries from their own people. The most vulnerable among them.
There are things in this world we don’t like to think about. Things that are too hard to know. But now you know, too. And maybe that’s all we can do right now. Know. Maybe we can’t change Russia. Maybe we can. But we can help to make sure this doesn’t happen to countries like China and other places in Europe. We can do more for those kids. And then maybe the next time a treaty comes up in America that can change things in those countries we cannot get to, we won’t let them be defeated by the minority.
We need to know.