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For 5 years, US families pursue Kyrgyz adoptions

Friday - 2/1/2013, 11:24am  ET

By DAVID CRARY and LEILA SARALAYEVA
Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) - The boy, named Vladimir, is 5 1/2 years old, struggles at learning to count and draw, and lives in an orphanage in Kyrgyzstan. His would-be parents in New York have had just five brief visits since they signed on to adopt him in 2008, yet they refuse to abandon the quest.

"We have already bonded with this child," said Frances Pardus-Abbadessa. "Probably a day doesn't go by that we don't think of him. In our mind, he's our child. If we don't wait for him, what's his fate going to be?"

Frances and her husband, Drew, were among a group initially known as the "Kyrgyz 65" _ Americans who were in the process of adopting 65 orphans from the Central Asian republic when it suspended international adoptions in 2008 due to allegations of fraud.

The group's ranks have dwindled over the ensuing years while Kyrgyzstan's adoption system has been disrupted by political turmoil and persisting corruption problems.

Some of the Americans gave up, some of the children were placed in domestic adoptions, and last summer nine of the remaining children finally were allowed to go to America. The Pardus-Abbadessas are now among 16 U.S. families still waiting, five years later.

Drew describes their predicament as "an emotional roller-coaster." But he and others in the waiting group are cautiously encouraged by the efforts of Kyrgyzstan's new social development minister, Edil Baisalov.

A 35-year-old English-speaker and avid Twitter user, Baisalov has brought an uncharacteristic level of openness to government business in his post-Soviet nation during six months on the job. He is working on new anti-corruption regulations and hopes for swift government approval that might help clear the way for the remaining U.S. adoption cases to be completed.

It's not a sure thing. Various anti-corruption and children's rights activists in the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, have criticized the proposed rules as inadequate and vowed to oppose them. But one of the waiting Americans, Shannon Fenske of Reeseville, Wisconsin, said Baisalov nonetheless had raised hopes after so many disappointments.

"We are so incredibly impressed and grateful for what he has done since taking over," Fenske said. "He's been the most vocal in favor of moving our cases forward."

Fenske, a medical technician, and her husband, Kevin, an aircraft maintenance manager, were matched in July 2008 with an infant Kyrgyz girl afflicted by a severe cleft lip and palate. They arranged for two operations for Kamila that improved her condition, but pain and speech problems linger.

The Fenskes have four other adopted children with special needs, including a 6-year-old boy adopted from Kyrgyzstan in 2007. But even with a bustling household, there's no thought about dropping the quest to adopt Kamila, whom they've visited only once _ last June.

"She's our daughter _ it's that simple," Shannon Fenske said. "We promised her a family. We will not stop fighting for her until she's here, where we feel she belongs."

The plight of the Fenskes and the other waiting families, while far more prolonged, shares some similarities with the circumstances of dozens of American families who were trying to adopt children from Russia when the Russian government banned such adoptions in December amid a rise in tensions with Washington. In both Russia and Kyrgyzstan, large numbers of abandoned children live in orphanages, and domestic adoptions are not sufficient to meet the needs.

Kyrgyzstan is an economically struggling country with often ill-equipped orphanages. Resources are scarce, specialist training to care for severely disabled children is limited, and the daily food budget at some facilities is $1.50 per child.

Unscrupulous bureaucrats dealing in what was effectively a trade in children led to two halts in foreign adoptions _ in 2006 and 2008 _ by Kyrgyz authorities.

Last July, adoptions were again frozen after the arrest of Baisalov's predecessor, Ravshan Sabirov, for allegedly extorting funds from foreign adoption agencies seeking accreditation. Sabirov eventually was acquitted, but nonetheless lost his post.

Under the new rules being pushed by Baisalov, any adoption agency working in Kyrgyzstan will have to secure separate agreements with four government ministries and with the security service, the successor to the Soviet-era KGB. Foreign agencies will be required to provide detailed financial statements to reduce the odds of corruption.

Despite that, the Bishkek-based Protection of Children's Rights League remains unconvinced and insists that many problems still need resolving. The league's leader, Nazgul Turdubekova, says corrupt local officials and unscrupulous intermediaries are commonly seen at international adoption agencies' offices.

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