Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Orthodox Church wants to tax childless couples to help adoptive families

A proposal by a top official in the Moscow Patriarchate to tax families with few or no children to encourage adoptions is proving controversial. 

The plan, a throwback to Soviet times, is closely related to the heated debate over the ban on US couples adopting Russian children that was recently passed into law. 

Under the new legislation, Russians are encouraged to adopt Russian orphans.

Dmitri Smirnov, head of the Synodal Department for Cooperation with Armed Forces and Law Enforcement Agencies, is behind the proposal. He wants the government to impose "a small tax on those with no or a few children" with the money raised going to families that adopt children.

"Why do they adopt children in America? Because the government gives them enough money not only to feed them, but also allow them to live comfortably," he told the Interfax news agency. 

In the past, the clergyman was involved in three children's facilities in Russia.

Smirnov is in favour of the 'Anti-Magnitsky law' signed in December by Russian President Vladimir Putin despite opposition within the Russian cabinet. US citizens are barred from adopting Russian children under the new law, which came into effect on 1 January 2013.

The law was adopted in reaction to a US law, the Magnitsky Act, which imposes penalties on Russian officials suspected of involvement in human rights violations.

Sergei Magnitsky was a lawyer who died under suspicious circumstances in a Moscow prison in 2009 after he had exposed corruption in the Russian Interior Ministry.

The new Russian law also bans Russian NGOs from engaging in political activities if they receive funding from the United States.

It was inspired by the case of little Dima Yaklovev, a Russian-born toddler who died in 2008 after his US adoptive father forgot him in his car. A US court eventually cleared the latter from any wrongdoing.

"If adoptive families received half of the money wasted in our orphanages, the children could be adopted by good and reliable Russian families who would welcome and love them. We would not need the Americans," Smirnov said.

According to UNICEF, some 740,000 children are waiting for adoption in Russia. However, only 18,000 Russians have signed up to adopt them. Until now, the United States represented the main country of destination for Russian orphans (more than 60,000 in 20 years).

A similar proposal of taxing childless Russians had already been made in 2006. At the time, President Vladimir Putin called it "morally baseless and unacceptable."

A similar law on unmarried people and childless couples existed under the Soviet Union.

Adopted in 1941, the law required men (aged 20 to 50) and women (aged 20 to 45) to pay 6 per cent of their salary into the coffers of the state. 

People making less than 91 rubles a month would pay a lower percentage; people making less than 70 were exempt.

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