By Atom Markarian
Adoptions of Armenian children by foreigners have continued largely unabated in the last two years, despite more stringent adoption rules that were set by the government in response to media reports questioning of the integrity of the process.
A senior official at the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs said on Thursday that 68 Armenian orphans found adopted parents abroad last year, compared with about 60 such cases reported in 2004. The latest figure is only slightly down from a record-high 76 adoptions reported by the authorities in 2003.
Legal requirements and procedures for foreign adoptions have been tightened by the government since then. The process began in December 2003 with a government pledge to allow foreign couples to have an Armenian children only exhausting all possibilities of finding local parents for the latter. This was followed by the adoption of new legislation that banned any intermediary activity or third-party facilitation of adoptions.
The bulk of foreign adoptions were until then arranged by local facilitators that charged hefty fees for their services: reportedly between $9,000 and $13,000 per child. The sums are suspiciously high given the much lower cost of relevant paperwork in Armenia. An RFE/RL report in June 2003 suggested that a large part of the money may be spent on bribes to Armenian officials involved in the process.
Labor and Social Affairs Minister Aghvan Vartanian asked state prosecutors at the time to look into the report, and it was his ministry that subsequently floated the idea of removing adoption intermediaries. The resulting legislative changes were expected to seriously complicate a process that was quite simple and even lax by Western standards.
It is not clear why the adoption figures has not fallen significantly since 2003. The latest data was made public following a weekly cabinet meeting that approved a five-year government strategy of helping Armenian orphans and other vulnerable children. According to the Labor and Social Affairs Ministry, there are currently about one thousand children living in Armenia’s eight state-run orphanages and another 250 in five institutions run by private charities.
The vast majority of those children have parents who are too poor to feed and support them. Deputy Labor Minister Artsvi Minasian said one of the key aims of the government program is to reduce the orphanage population by enabling those parents to take back their offspring. Minasian said that can done through social benefits or assistance for finding jobs.
“If a particular family needs X among of money for decent life, that money can be raised through a number of state programs that are currently implemented,” he told reporters without elaborating.