There’s a tiny grave near an orphanage on the outskirts of Bishkek. It holds the body of an undersized 2-year-old girl who died in August from complications of a disease that is dangerous, yet often manageable in the United States. The little girl, who had been matched for adoption with a Florida doctor, is a casualty of a moratorium on international adoptions imposed long before Kyrgyzstan became engulfed in turmoil this spring.
The dead girl’s adoption, along with those of 64 other Kyrgyz orphans by American families, had been stalled for roughly two years. After protracted talks, officials on both sides are optimistic that the adoption logjam will finally be broken -- but they all concede that the issue will ultimately need to be resolved by the Kyrgyz legislators who are elected in the nation’s October 10 parliamentary elections.
“The parliament will be back and (proponents of completing these adoptions) have quite a serious lobby there,” Kyrgyzstan’s provisional president, Roza Otunbayeva, told EurasiaNet.org on September 23. Otunbayeva was in New York for the 65th United Nations General Assembly.
Kyrgyz officials are currently reviewing a memorandum of understanding (MOU) prepared by the US State Department that, if signed by both governments, would expedite the adoptions of the 64 orphans. Ambassador Susan Jacobs, The State Department’s Special Advisor for International Children’s Issues, presented the MOU in mid-September to different Kyrgyz ministries during a special trip to Bishkek.
Jacobs said that once both governments agree on the document’s language, the MOU can be submitted to the new sitting parliament in Kyrgyzstan for approval.
"We're hoping that we can get this done before the end of the year," Jacobs said. She acknowledged that the disabilities and developmental delays of many of the children added an element of urgency to the process. “While these children were offered for domestic adoption, they were not adopted. So they were institutionalized. These are tough cases; these children need to be in a loving home."
Time means the most to the prospective adoptees in need of medical help and therapy. The younger they are, the more effective surgeries and therapy can be. Carrie and Bob Delille of Virginia are trying to bring home one of the oldest children in the group of 64, an 11-year-old boy with a cleft palate and possibly a bone condition. The palate issue means the boy basically has no roof to his mouth, makes eating difficult.
“If this [adoption] process had gone the way it was supposed to, he would have come home a year earlier,” Bob Delille said. “Instead, here he languishes in an orphanage undernourished, with no surgery, and with rickets.”
According to local news media, the MOU has Kyrgyz support. Feruza Dzhamasheva, chairwoman of the Supreme Court, met with Jacobs on her visit and “expressed readiness to co-operate in achieving an aim, because Kyrgyzstan is also interested in helping those children to join their families,” Kyrgyz news outlet 24.kg reported.
Drafting the MOU was a Kyrgyz recommendation. A delegation visiting the United States in late August suggested that the United States create an agreement as a way to restart talks on the issue that had languished. The Kyrgyz officials requested two specific provisions be included: that the children retain their birth citizenship after adoption and live as dual US and Kyrgyz citizens; and that the government receive a yearly report on each child until his or her 18th birthday.
Keeping tabs on local children adopted by foreigners is a sensitive issue in the former Soviet Union. Reports of Russian orphans who’ve died since being adopted internationally have stoked fear about the process in the region, as did the incident last April when a Tennessee woman relinquished her adopted 7-year-old son by placing him alone on a plane back to Moscow.
The Kyrgyz government is currently rewriting its laws on international adoption to address these concerns and to try to reduce corruption in the system. The MOU would only resolve the 64 pending cases. A moratorium would remain in place on new foreign adoptions from Kyrgyzstan until new legislation is enacted.
After two years of starts and stops, dozens of unfulfilled promises from governments and adoption agencies, and political upheaval in Bishkek that nearly unraveled all their efforts, some of the 64 families are guarded when discussing the MOU.
“We have to manage our emotions,” said New York resident Frances Pardus-Abbadessa, who, along with her husband, Drew Pardus, is hoping to adopt a 3-year-old boy. “As much as we want to get excited, there are still too many potential barriers that could cause this wonderful timeline to go astray.”
As time ticks on, the story of the two-year-old girl’s sad fate sits in the back of many waiting parents’ minds. The girl’s adoptive mother, a Florida pediatrician named Suzanne Bilyeu, was the first to diagnose the child’s advanced hydrocephalus from photos she received in March of 2009, seven months after she was originally scheduled to bring the girl home. This led to two in-country surgeries, the second of which was this summer. The girl died a few weeks after that last procedure, on August 9.
“She’s what we’ve all been so afraid of, what we all thought could happen,” Bilyeau said, discussing the fears of the families as they wait thousands of miles away from the children they hope to bring into their own families. “She undoubtedly is in a beautiful place. It just seemed like such a preventable loss.”
Laurie Rich Salerno is an editor for Patch.com. She lives in Meriden, CT.