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Russia’s notorious children’s ombudsman quit following insensitive comments to survivors of a deadly boat accident

AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev
He crossed a line.
  • Hanna Kozlowska
By Hanna Kozlowska

Investigative reporter

Published This article is more than 2 years old.

Pavel Astakhov, Russia’s children rights commissioner who successfully lobbied to ban US adoptions of Russian children in 2012, has stepped down after a petition calling for his dismissal garnered more than 150,000 signatures, Russian media confirmed Monday (July 4). The public was outraged after he visited two girls who survived a boating accident that killed 14 summer campers and asked: “So, how was the swim?”

He tried to explain himself after the June 24 hospital visit, saying that “professional psychologists recommend speaking with maximum positivity.”

Before Asthakov became children’s rights commissioner, he was a celebrity lawyer, a TV judge on Russia’s equivalent of “Judge Judy,” and an author of thriller novels. His profile rose beyond Russia when the country banned US adoptions of Russian children in 2012 in retaliation for sanctions imposed by Washington.

The ban immediately halted 259 adoptions already underway. The New York Times wrote about Astakhov, a proponent of the law in 2013: “The law banning adoptions by Americans was not named after him, but it might as well have been.” He pushed for banning all foreign adoptions, claiming that the country was selling its orphans to abusive parents abroad and that Americans were trying to deplete eastern Russia’s population.

Last year, Asthakov stirred controversy for defending the marriage of a middle-aged police chief to a 17-year-old girl in Chechnya. He emphasized in a radio interview that Russian law allowed for regional differences in the minimum age for marriage.

“Let’s not be hypocrites,” he said. “There are places where women are already shriveled at age 27, and by our standards they look like they’re 50. And, in general, the constitution forbids interference in citizens’ personal lives.”

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