Adoption freeze urged after boy returned to Russia
By NATALIYA VASILYEVA and KRISTIN M. HALL
The Associated Press
Friday, April 9, 2010; 12:01 PM
MOSCOW -- A top Russian official urged Friday that all child adoptions by U.S. families be frozen after a woman from Tennessee put her 7-year-old adopted Russian grandson alone on a one-way flight back to his homeland.
The grandmother, Nancy Hansen, told The Associated Press from her home in Shelbyville, Tennessee, that she put the child on a plane to Russia with a note from her daughter. She said the family paid a man $200 to pick the boy up at the airport and take him to the Russian Education and Science Ministry.
She said that boy had been violent toward his mother in the U.S.
A previous string of U.S. adoptions gone wrong - including at least three in which children died - had already made Russian officials wary. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called the latest incident the last straw.
The boy, Artyom Savelyev arrived unaccompanied Thursday in Moscow on a United Airlines flight from Washington.
The Kremlin children's rights office said the boy, whose adoptive name is Justin Hansen, was carrying a letter from his adoptive mother, Torry Hansen of Shelbyville, Tennessee, 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.
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."
But Nancy Hansen said the boy was sent back to the ministry because the family thought officials there would take care of him. There was no child abandonment, she said, because a stewardess was watching the boy on the flight and a reputable person picked him up in Russia.
Russian state television 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 clinic.
The boy is now in the hospital in northern Moscow for a checkup, Anna Orlova, spokeswoman for Kremlin's Children Rights Commissioner Pavel Astakhov, told The Associated Press.
Orlova, who visited Savelyev on Friday, said the child reported that his mother was "bad," "did not love him," and used to pull his hair.
Savelyev was adopted last September from the town of Partizansk in Russia's Far East.
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.
Savelyev holds a Russian passport with a U.S. visa that expired April 4, Russian officials said.
The education ministry said it had decided to suspended the license of World Association for Children and Parents - a Renton, Washington-based agency that processed Savelyev's adoption - for the duration of the probe.
Foreign Minister Lavrov said in televised remarks that the 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, Lavrov was quoted as saying.
Lavrov said the U.S. had refused to negotiate such an accord in the past but "the recent event was the last straw."
Astakhov said in a televised interview Friday that a treaty is vital for protecting Russian citizens abroad.
"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."
But placing children inside Russia remains difficult. There are more than 740,000 children without parental custody in the country, according to UNICEF, the United Nations Children's Fund.
Previous incidents 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 just 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.
The cases prompted outrage in Russia, where foreign failures are reported with gusto, and calls for tougher rules governing foreign adoptions.
Last year, nearly 1,600 Russian children were adopted in the United States, according to Tatyana Yakovleva of the ruling United Russia party.
Rob Johnson, a spokesman for the Tennessee Department of Children's Services, said the agency is looking into Friday's allegations, although they do not handle international adoptions.
Torry Ann Hansen is listed as a licensed registered nurse in Shelbyville, Tenn., according to the Tennessee Department of Health's Web site. No work address is listed.
Her name appears in a list of August 2007 graduates from Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, Tenn., with a Masters of Science in Nursing degree.
Bedford County Sheriff Randall Boyce said Torry Hansen is under investigation although no charges have been filed. Officers were expected to interview her on Friday afternoon.
United Airlines 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. United Airlines allows unaccompanied children as young as 5 years old on direct flights. Children age 8 and above can catch connecting flights, as well.
United spokeswoman Robin Urbanski said all the unaccompanied minors on the flight that arrived in Moscow on Thursday were picked up by the person listed on the form.