By Armen Zakarian
The Armenian government approved on Thursday a set of measures designed to give children living in state-run orphanages more rights and facilitate their future integration into the society.
The changes took the form of draft amendments to a law on the social security of children deprived of parental care. Officials said they will be discussed by parliament this fall.
“Children living in orphanages must be immune to any kind of violence, exploitation and sexual abuse,” Ashot Yesayan, the deputy minister of labor and social affairs, told a news briefing after a weekly cabinet meeting.
Yesayan specified that the amendments spell out 20 requirements that will have to be met by all orphanage administrations. He said those include giving the orphans the right to choose their clothes, make unrestricted phone calls to their friends and relatives and have some “pocket money.”
“Any child must have a certain sum at their disposal depending on their age,” he added.
The proposed changes are also meant to tackle the equally serious problem of those orphans who have nowhere to live, work or study after coming of age. Other officials from the Social Affairs Ministry have said that many of them have to stay in the orphanages for that reason.
Under one of the draft amendments to the law every homeless person who has left an orphanage since 1992 must be provided with free housing by the government. Yesayan put their number at 180, saying that 55 of them were given apartments in Yerevan and elsewhere in Armenia last year and 75 others will get them this year. The provision of housing will be complete by the end of 2005, he said.
The government decision comes after a major toughening earlier this year of official rules for the adoption of Armenian children by foreign nationals. In February ministers imposed additional restrictions on the practice in an apparent reaction to media reports suggesting widespread corruption among government officials handling the process.
In another move aimed reducing foreign adoptions which hit a record-high number of 76 in 2003, the government approved a scheme offering local families financial incentives to take in and raise orphans.
According to government figures, there are about 600 such children in Armenia -- a relatively low figure for a country of 3 million that has gone through dramatic political and social upheavals since the Soviet collapse. Anecdotal evidence suggests that many of them have at least one parent, usually a single mother, who is unable to support them.