By Emil Danielyan
A U.S. middleman specializing in arranging adoptions of Armenian children has slammed as “ridiculous” the Armenian government’s plans to encourage local families to host and raise the orphans until they come of age.
The scheme, announced last week, is part of the government’s stated efforts to reduce the number of such children adopted by foreign nationals each year. Officials said they have already secured donor funding for the unprecedented scheme.
Writing in an Internet discussion group, Robin Sizemore of the U.S.-based Carolina Adoption Services (CAS), claims that orphans placed in a caretaker family would not necessarily be happier and might even be abused by caretaker parents.
“I am worried sick to think that a child would leave the institution and be placed in an unsuspecting and uneducated family,” Sizemore said in a message posted on the online forum Sunday. “Not only for the family, but most of all for the child that will never get the therapy needed and most likely become a victim of abuse and perhaps run away and become a child of the street.”
The planned arrangement, which requires corresponding amendments to Armenia’s laws on children’s rights and education, does not amount to a formal adoption of children. Caretaker families will simply be required to bring up orphans as their own children in return for a monthly financial compensation from the state. According to Deputy Minister of Labor and Social Affairs Ashot Yesayan, the government will pay at least 50,000 drams ($90) per child for food expenses alone.
Yesayan assured reporters last Thursday that families willing to take in children from state-run orphanages will undergo close scrutiny based on a dozen selection criteria to be set by his ministry. Those include the size of their income, the state of their “physical and mental health” as well as the opinion of their neighbors and colleagues, he said.
But Sizemore, who is in charge of CAS activities in Armenia and neighboring Georgia, warned: “One should not romance the idea that just a loving stable home will remedy any issue. This sets the child up for abuse in the foster home as the parents will not have the education, training, support or resources to deal with these issues.”
CAS is one of several private U.S. adoption agencies operating in Armenia either directly or through local agents familiar with a long list of Armenian officials in a position to affect the process. Other local facilitators work directly with adoptive parents in the U.S. and Europe.
There has been a steady increase in foreign adoptions in the country in recent years. According to official figures, at least 76 Armenian children were adopted by foreigners, most of them Americans of Armenian extraction, last year.
It is not known how many of them were taken abroad through CAS and other U.S. agencies. They typically charge their clients between $9,000 and $13,000 per child -- a suspiciously high figure given the much lower cost of official paperwork inside Armenia. An RFE/RL report suggested last year that a large part of the money is spent on bribes to local government officials.
The report led Social Affairs Minister Aghvan Vartanian, who took over shortly before its publication in June, to ask prosecutors to launch an official inquiry. Vartanian was also the main initiator of changes in the adoption rules approved by the Armenian government last month. They are primarily aimed at facilitating domestic adoptions.
Sources told RFE/RL that Vartanian’s ministry was pushing for much tougher rules that would exclude the middlemen from the process and subject foreign adoptive parents to stricter scrutiny. They said the proposals were not accepted by the cabinet of Prime Minister Andranik Markarian, which has the final say on every single foreign adoption in Armenia.
As things stand now, the foreigners face few requirements except having a minimum annual income of $24,000 each. They are not even personally interviewed by a government commission overseeing the process.