Saturday, March 1, 2008
"Take Me Home"
Here are billboards from an advertising campaign that I've seen in Moscow since October. "Take Me Home," they say. Since in America most people know people who were adopted or who have adopted, my "American" reaction to the sign was positive. "Great," I thought. "Anything that can help to put a more positive spin on adoption among Russians would be helpful."
Russians don't tend to adopt. There's a real stigma about caring for a child that isn't your "real" child, and a real wariness of "tainted" kids. You just don't encounter children with handicaps in everyday life; kids with disabilities or difficulties tend to be abandoned at birth and hidden away in orphanages. Parents whose biological children have difficulties find it hard enough to raise them; you don't find parents willing to risk adopting a baby who could end up having fetal alcohol syndrome or other problems.
That's why Russian orphanages are spilling over with children, and why it's a travesty that the government makes it so hard for eager and loving foreign parents to adopt these kids.
In any case, back to the billboard. My reaction to those pleading eyes was not the reaction had by most Russians I've asked. Their overwhelming response was, "Creepy!" The billboard glows white at night and the eyes do seem detached--but "creepy"?? The campaign seems to have backfired (according to my albeit flawed poll), instead reinforcing the "otherness" of orphans and the desire to separate oneself from them.
The billboard also says, "50% of homeless children have run away from unfortunate families." Again, this information doesn't do anything to inspire adoption among the Russians I asked. If the children ran away from families with problems, then the kids are likely troubled--and why risk adding such a struggling child to one's family?
At the exact same time that this "adoption campaign" was unveiled, posters sprouted up all over Moscow extolling families with multiple children--there's a picture of mom with her triplets (who, incidentally, is actually one child reproduced in Photoshop--they couldn't find a pretty mom of multiples and it was cheaper this way--I read that somewhere and now I can't remember the source) in most metro stations. There are also all kinds advertisements for services for pregnant women and families with small children. The overwhelming message is, "Procreate! We'll help with vitamins and cheaper diapers!" Last month everyone in Moscow received a thick booklet in the mail that was filled with incentives to have children--information about early childhood programs, prenatal care, etc.
Yes, the birth rate has plunged in Russia and it is of national concern. One region of the country, Ulanovsk, went as far as to give everyone the day off from work on September 12th--so that they can stay home and procreate, aiming for a big batch of babies born around "Victory Day" in May--the main national holiday. People whose babies are actually born on the holiday receive all kinds of prizes.
I wish that this focus on families, however, did a better job of embracing children in general--and not only those that the leaders would like parents to biologically produce.