By Atom Markarian and Emil Danielyan
The government put forward Thursday additional restrictions on the controversial adoptions of Armenian children by foreigners which would force the latter to deal directly with relevant state bodies without any third-party involvement.
The provision is contained in a draft “family code” approved by ministers. If endorsed by parliament, it could further complicate foreign adoptions in Armenia, the integrity of which has been called into question over the past year.
“The bill bans intermediary activity in the area of adoptions, which was very commonplace until now,” Deputy Justice Minister Gevorg Malkhasian told reporters, describing the proposed change as “very important.”
Malkhasian said anyone who represents foreign nationals in the adoption of local orphans for financial or other motives will be liable for administrative and even criminal punishment. “This will be considered an illegal activity, and those who engage in it will be held accountable,” he said.
The move, which requires the parliament’s approval, is the latest in a series of government actions complicating the foreign adoptions which hit a record-high number of 76 last year. The toughening of the adoption rules began in late December with a government decision allowing foreign couples to have an Armenian orphan only after the state exhausts all possibilities of finding the latter local parents. And on January 15 the government approved a scheme offering local families financial incentives to take in and raise children from state-run orphanages until they come of age.
The foreigners, most of them U.S. citizens of Armenian descent, normally arrange the adoptions through local “facilitators” who either work independently or in conjunction with private American agencies. The facilitators reportedly charge between $9,000 and $13,000 per child -- a suspiciously high figure given the much lower cost of the entire paperwork inside Armenia.
An RFE/RL report last June suggested that a large part of the money may be spent on bribes to Armenian officials involved in the process. 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.
Malkhasian said the proposed family legislation would also mandate additional requirements to potential foreign adoptive parents and obligate the state to keep track of orphans already taken abroad. “Many people worry about what happens to children adopted abroad. After the passage of the code we will adopt rules and our diplomatic missions will be obliged to follow our children’s fate,” he said.
The code would amend rule for local adoptions as well, with the ultimate authority to approve or reject them to be transferred from local governments to the courts of justice. The central government, however, will continue to have a final say on foreign adoptions.