By Atom Markarian
The Armenian government announced on Wednesday a major toughening of its procedures for the adoption of Armenian children by foreign nationals, citing an “alarming” increase in such cases in recent years.
Senior officials dealing with the issue also admitted that the existing rules, adopted in February 2000, leave the process open to government abuse and corruption.
“There are some loopholes, ambiguities and problems here that need to be addressed urgently,” said Social Security Minister Aghvan Vartanian, the main author of the changes. He said they are aimed at placing more Armenian orphans in local families.
According to official figures, 76 children were adopted by foreigners -- most of them U.S. citizens -- in the first eleven months of this year, up from 43 such cases registered in 2001. By contrast the number of domestic adoptions has fallen from 135 to 128 during the same period.
Vartanian said that under the new rules foreign couples will be allowed to adopt an Armenian child only after the state exhausts all possibilities of finding the latter local parents. Any child will be available for foreign adoption at least three months after being included into the Social Security Ministry’s adoption database, he added.
Other senior officials involved in the process, however, claimed this summer that Armenian orphans are already allowed to be taken abroad only after failing to attract local adoptive parents.
It also remained unclear whether foreigners will be required to deal with the government directly, and not through international or domestic agents that have carried out all the paperwork and even selected children for their clients until now. Some senior Social Security Ministry officials announced recently that foreigners will have to be present at every stage of the adoption process that may take between three months and a year.
Its integrity was thrust into doubt last June by an RFE/RL report exposing apparent kickbacks paid by foreign adoptive parents and their local “facilitators” to relevant Armenian officials. The report was based on an online investigation conducted by a U.S. citizen of Armenian descent. Some American adoptive parents confided to him that they spent thousands of dollars on bribes through the facilitators.
The report led Vartanian to demand an official inquiry from the Armenian Prosecutor-General’s Office. The latter appeared to investigate the matter throughout the summer, but decided against launching criminal proceedings for lack of evidence.