Pavel Sarychev’s social media profile alone should have raised eyebrows. 

As a bachelor of 43 years old, with only a dozen linked friends, a history of psychiatric illness, and interest in groups such as “offer / receive children,” his adoption bonafides were clearly lacking. 

But when Sarychev asked a Russian adoption agency about ways to avoid social services checks, he received not questions but a menu of options. 

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The adoption agency boasted to him of strong relations with social services, maternity wards and judges. It said it could get him a new-born baby for the equivalent of £5,000 – commission included. 

Thankfully, Pavel Sarychev was never a real person, but an imagined devil constructed by journalists at the Russian investigative outlet The Insider

Their new report has outlined in shocking detail the extent to which Russia’s adoption system is open to abuse. It shows how a black market has been set up to off the most wretched in Russian society – using unregulated social media platforms to connect buyers to sellers via unscrupulous agents. 

The exact scale of the illicit trade is unclear, but evidence points to an unhealthy demand. Every month, the most popular Russian search engine registers 85,000 searches of the term “buy a child” in Moscow alone. 

For some, no doubt, it is a way to cut out three years of red tape and complicated adoption law. Often, the women involved are in desperate situations. But the opportunities for abuse of the most horrific kind are also obvious. 

The prices quoted depend on the region and the child’s characteristics, the publication said. Non-Slavic children from the more underdeveloped regions of the Russian Federation are the least expensive. Slavs in Moscow and St Petersburg – the most. Court documents showed that in one case just 5,000 roubles (£60) swapped hands. 

The journalists were offered well-worked schemes to get around social services checks. 

For suspicious-looking men like the imagined Pavel Sarychev, the suggested route was getting the father of an abandoned baby to sign off on the adoption. For women, other options were suggested, including switching babies in the maternity ward under the watchless eyes of corrupted nurses. 

There was little need to worry about being caught, agents said. With corrupted people in all parts of the system working for them, not even a DNA test would stop the trade going through.

Russia’s adoption system has long been considered vulnerable by dent of corruption and the large number of orphans in its care (at one point the largest proportion in the world.)

In recent years, authorities have introduced measures to improve children’s well-being and safety. But convictions for child trafficking remain rare – only three dozen such cases in the last eight years. 

Critics of the Kremlin’s approach to children’s safety also bring attention to the introduction of the infamous Dima Yakovlev law in 2013. 

Named after a Russian child who died in the United States after his adoptive father accidentally left him in a car, the measures banned all adoptions to the United States. Hundreds of adoptions were cancelled at the last minute, with children and families left in the lurch. The Kremlin said it was only acting in the interests of children, but with terrible geopolitical relations in the background, they convinced few people. 

The seemingly unfazed adoption agent quoted by The Insider emphasised this was one law he would never break. 

He would never work with foreigners, he said – out of "principle." 

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