By Atom Markarian
The Armenian government approved on Thursday a scheme designed to encourage local families to accept and raise children from state-run orphanages, promising to reward them with financial assistance.
The move followed a major toughening of procedures for the adoption of Armenian children by foreign nationals which was announced by ministers late last month.
The government is now seeking amendments to Armenia’s laws on children’s rights and education that would enable orphans to grow up in families having both parents and meeting specific criteria set by the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs. Under the new arrangement they would not be formally adopted by caretaker families.
“The state will select families that are willing to host children without parents or parental care and will pay those families for that,” Deputy Social Affairs Minister Ashot Yesayan told reporters after a weekly cabinet meeting that approved the draft amendments.
“We have dozens of families that have expressed a desire to take three, four and even five children in addition to having their own ones.”
Yesayan said caretaker parents will receive a monthly allowance for every orphan brought up in their family. The government will pay at least 50,000 drams ($90) per child for food expenses alone, he added.
The scheme appears to enjoy the backing of Western donors that have already promised cash for its implementation. The Japanese government has emerged as the single largest contributor, pledging $960,000 worth of assistance.
UNICEF, the United Nations’ child protection agency, has already begun to implement a similar program worth $620,000 in the Gegharkunik region whose capital Gavar has the country’s largest home for orphans of school age.
Many of its residents find themselves homeless and without work after they finish school and come of age -- a serious problem admitted by Yesayan. He said the government has developed a plan to build or buy homes for them with donor assistance.
According to official data, there have been 161 such young people since 1992 and only 35 of them have so far been provided with housing.
The orphan placement plan appears to be a further step aimed at complicating foreign adoptions in Armenia which were relatively easy until recently. Officials acknowledged that the previous rules introduced in 2000 were conducive to government abuse and corruption. Media reports last year suggested that the process involves thousands of dollars in kickbacks paid by foreign adoptive parents and their local “facilitators” to Armenian officials.
According to the Social Affairs Ministry, 76 Armenian children were adopted by foreigners -- most of them U.S. citizens -- from January through November 2003.