By Ruzanna Khachatrian
Prime Minister Andranik Markarian and a member of his cabinet confirmed on Wednesday plans to tighten rules for the adoption of Armenian children by foreign nationals, admitting that the existing procedures leave room for government abuse.
But they said law-enforcement authorities have no compelling evidence to prosecute any government official in a position to affect foreign adoption on charges of bribery.
That the process is tainted with corruption was suggested by an RFE/RL report last June. It was based on the online correspondence of an Armenian-American businessman based in Nagorno-Karabakh with U.S. adoptive parents. Some of them told Ara Manoogian that their adoption expenditures included thousands of dollars worth of bribes paid to relevant Armenian officials.
Social Security Minister Aghvan Vartanian asked the office of Armenia’s prosecutor-general to examine the report. The prosecutors have questioned several individuals but, according to Vartanian, have found no grounds to launch criminal proceedings against anyone.
“A criminal case has not been opened because it is difficult to find concrete evidence [of corruption],” he told RFE/RL. “But it is obvious that there are some worrisome practices.”
Markarian likewise admitted “some problems” with the foreign adoptions, but claimed that his government has rendered the process more stringent in the last two years. Speaking to RFE/RL, he said the requirements will be tightened further soon.
Vartanian confirmed this, saying: “The number of foreign adoptions has grown in recent years, and that worries us. Our ministry is now drawing up appropriate changes to the adoption rules.”
The process is currently handled by a high-level government commission comprising the ministers of justice, education, health and social security and other officials. It usually takes between four and six months and also requires positive decisions by several other government bodies. The final clearance is given by the full cabinet of ministers.
According to the Social Security Ministry, 62 Armenian children, mainly orphans, were adopted by foreigners last year, and 37 others in the first half of this year. Vartanian complained that the existing procedures are too “simple” as they mainly require adoptive parents to make only one trip to Armenia and have a minimum annual income of $24,000 per person. He said a foreign adoption should be allowed only in cases where the government can not find Armenians parents for an orphan.
Markarian said the government commission has already decided to allow foreign citizens without ethnic Armenian roots to adopt only mentally and physically disabled children.
The change was first announced in early August by a representative of a U.S. adoption agency that has for years been involved in Armenia. “We are completing [the adoption by] our last non-Armenian family next week and will no longer accept non-Armenian families into the program,” she wrote to an Internet discussion group.