For a group of prospective North American parents whose attempts to adopt Kyrgyzstani children wound up on the wrong side of a 2009 moratorium on foreign adoptions, the last four years have been a harrowing education in the cut and thrust of Kyrgyz politics. The lifting of the moratorium last year offered the group – sometimes known as the “Kyrgyz 65” – hope, but recent corruption scandals appear to have brought the whole process to a grinding halt once again.
Gabrielle Shimkus, whose hoped-for son Azamat, now four, is one of the original 65 cases, shed “tears of joy” when the ban was lifted in May 2011, and further tears when the first of the long-stalled adoptions was completed this summer. But members of the group, who together lobby the Kyrgyz government, have had plenty of other reasons to cry over the years. A new ban on the work of all accredited international adoption agencies in Kyrgyzstan has given the remaining prospective parents a sickly feeling of déjà vu.
Under the Hague Convention, which Kyrgyzstan ratified on June 29, agencies accredited by a designated state institution are necessary go-betweens in international adoption cases. But several of the ten agencies operating in Kyrgyzstan are suspected of bribing officials to obtain their licenses (four have had their licenses revoked and the remaining six were suspended on July 26 for two months pending an investigation). The scandal led to the July 5 arrest of Social Development Minister Ravshan Sabirov and, on August 31, of his deputy Gulnara Derbisheva. Kyrgyzstan’s State Committee for National Security (GKNB) accuses both Sabirov and Derbisheva of taking bribes worth over $10,000 each from international agencies seeking accreditation.
The arrests have prompted calls for further house cleaning in Kyrgyzstan’s graft-ridden social sector and even a second moratorium on international adoption altogether. The threat of another delay has “devastated” Shimkus and her husband Frank. They fear that that Azamat, who requires surgeries on a cleft lip and palate, will be stuck in a Bishkek children’s home for the foreseeable future.
“The older [Azamat] gets, the more difficult these [cleft] surgeries are to do,” Gabrielle Shimkus explained by email. Citing additional concerns about the boy’s speech and stunted growth, Shimkus added, “He has a long way to go, and the longer the delays are in our adoption, the more significant his problems become.”
Lawmakers in Bishkek have not always shared the urgency felt by the Shimkuses and other prospective parents. After the 2009 moratorium, two of the 65 children died from illnesses that might have been treatable. With no end in sight, some prospective parents reluctantly dropped out of the process. And this January, about 20 families found out that the children they had been waiting for were adopted by local couples, who are given priority under Kyrgyzstan’s May 2011 family code. Nine of the original 65 children are now living with their adoptive parents in the United States.
Sixteen families are still waiting, bombarded by mixed messages from the country’s rotating elite.
Edil Baisalov, who replaced Sabirov as acting minister social development, has given perhaps the firmest statement of support to the families still waiting. On August 30 he told local journalists there would be no new moratorium. “In the course of discussions about the renewal of the adoption process, we must not forget the most important thing -- the child. Every day in a children’s home is a day without affection,” the 24.kg news agency quoted him as saying.
But underscoring the challenges Kyrgyzstan’s volatile political system present, a week later the ministry had a new head.
Before his ouster in August, then-Prime Minister Omurbek Babanov, the fourth of five premiers since the original moratorium in February 2009, had talked up the possibility of a second ban; some nationalist hardliners in parliament – where any motion would have to pass – remain firmly opposed to international adoption.
Explaining the public ambivalence, Nazgul Turdubekova, director of the non-profit Children’s Rights Defenders League and a member of the Ministry of Social Development’s public oversight board, argues, “the corruption of [Kyrgyz] officials has discredited the very idea of international adoption.” Perceptions that local prospective parents were kept on never-ending waiting lists while “all paths were opened for the international agencies” fueled the public outcry that led to the original moratorium.
“An opinion has formed that [international adoption] is a big business,” Turdubekova told EurasiaNet.org.
Yet legislators have provided few alternatives to the crowded children’s homes dotted around Kyrgyzstan. According to Radio Free Europe, there were 11,000 orphans and abandoned children in such institutions in May 2011, while officials from Kyrgyzstan’s Interior Ministry told the Vechernii Bishkek newspaper that 99 newborns were handed over to children’s homes in the first seven months of 2012. (Not all of these children are orphans. Many are left part-time in the homes by indigent or migrant parents unable to provide full-time care.)
Moreover, international adoptions have never been a panacea. Between 2006 – when Kyrgyzstan began accepting regular applications from international families – and 2008, only about 100 international adoptions occurred each year.
For her part, Gabrielle Shimkus refrains from criticizing either government officials or the adoption agencies, but believes she has done everything in her power to prove she is a worthy parent for Azamat. “We believe in the new family code and children's code that the ministries and parliament have worked so hard to create,” she said. “But the last moratorium cost us and our children four years of being apart. [During that time] a part of my heart has been in Kyrgyzstan.”