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Local family reacts to Putin signing  anti-US adoptions bill

Russian police officers detain demonstrators protesting against a bill banning US adoptions of Russian children outside the Russian parliament's upper chamber in Moscow, Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2012.  The upper chamber of Russia's parliament on Wednesday unanimously voted in favor of a measure banning Americans from adopting Russian children. It now goes to President Vladimir Putin to sign or turn down. A poster reads "Destroy Putin's authoritarianism. Don't pass the bill written by scoundrels." (AP Photo/Misha Japaridze)

Russian police officers detain demonstrators protesting against a bill banning US adoptions of Russian children outside the Russian parliament's upper chamber in Moscow, Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2012. The upper chamber of Russia's parliament on Wednesday unanimously voted in favor of a measure banning Americans from adopting Russian children. It now goes to President Vladimir Putin to sign or turn down. A poster reads "Destroy Putin's authoritarianism. Don't pass the bill written by scoundrels." (AP Photo/Misha Japaridze)

MOSCOW — President Vladimir Putin on Friday signed a law banning Americans from adopting Russian children, abruptly terminating the prospects for more than 50 youngsters preparing to join new families and sparking critics to liken him to King Herod.

The move is part of a harsh response to a U.S. law targeting Russians deemed to be human rights violators. Although some top Russian officials, including the foreign minister who openly opposed the bill, Putin signed it less than 24 hours after receiving it from Parliament, where it passed both houses overwhelmingly.

The law also calls for the closure of non-governmental organizations receiving American funding if their activities are classified as political — a broad definition many fear could be used to close any NGO that offends the Kremlin.

The law takes effect Jan. 1, the Kremlin said. Children’s rights ombudsman Pavel Astakhov said 52 children who were in the pipeline for U.S. adoption would remain in Russia.

“I feel very sad for those kids,” said Christopher Sikes of Greenfield, who with his wife, Margo Jones, in 1994 adopted two Russian sisters, Natasha and Olga, 3 and 4, at the time.

I could understand why a country would not want to see its children adopted out of the country,” he said. “But it’s sad for the kids and disturbing that it would happen. When we were adopting, and I’m sure the same is true today, these kids were malnourished and had attachment disorders because they were stuck in orphanages. I’m convinced to this day that at least one of our girls would not have lived had they stayed in Russia. I find it to be very sad that nationalism would keep these children from getting the support they need. When you mistreat children, all you’re doing is creating another generation of damaged people.”

The ban is in response to a measure signed into law by President Barack Obama this month that calls for sanctions against Russians assessed to be human rights violators.

The adoption ban has angered both Americans and Russians, who argue it victimizes children to make a political point, cutting off a route out of frequently dismal orphanages for thousands.

“The king is Herod,” popular writer Oleg Shargunov said on his Twitter account, referring to the Roman-appointed king of Judea at the time of Jesus Christ’s birth, who the Bible says ordered the massacre of Jewish children to avoid being supplanted by a prophesied newborn king of the Jews.

The U.S. law galvanized Russian resentment of the United States, which Putin has claimed funded and encouraged the wave of massive anti-government protests that arose last winter.

The Parliament initially considered a relatively similar retaliatory measure, but amendments have expanded it far beyond a tit-for-tat response.

UNICEF estimates that there are about 740,000 children not in parental custody in Russia while about 18,000 Russians are on the waiting list to adopt a child. The U.S. is the biggest destination for adopted Russian children — more than 60,000 of them have been taken in by Americans over the past two decades.

Russians historically have been less enthusiastic about adopting children than most Western cultures. Putin, along with signing the adoption ban, on Friday issued an order for the government to develop a program to provide more support for adopted children.

Lev Ponomarev, one of Russia’s most prominent human rights activists, hinted at that reluctance when he said Parliament members who voted for the bill should take custody of the children who were about to be adopted.

“The moral responsibility lies on them,” he told Interfax. “But I don’t think that even one child will be taken to be brought up by deputies of the Duma.”

Many Russians have been distressed for years by reports of Russian children dying or suffering abuse at the hands of their American adoptive parents. The new Russian law was dubbed the “Dima Yakovlev Bill” after a toddler who died in 2008 when his American adoptive father left him in a car in broiling heat for hours.

In that case, the father was found not guilty of involuntary manslaughter and Russia has complained of acquittals or light sentences in other such cases.

The Investigative Committee, Russia’s top investigative body, on Friday complained that its attempts to have the acquittals overturned or reconsidered had been ignored by the United States. Under U.S. law, acquittals are final except in rare cases.

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