The women were taken into custody early this week after the Armenian police claimed that they “periodically” slapped the children, pulled their hair and even hit them with sticks.
The police did not reveal the source of the information about the alleged violence. The allegation is believed to have been made by an orphanage insider.
A Yerevan court on Wednesday agreed to remand the three suspects in custody pending investigation conducted by Armenia’s Investigative Committee.
A spokeswoman for the committee, Rima Yeganian, insisted on Thursday that the law-enforcement agency had enough evidence to indict them. “The investigation is continuing,” she told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service.
The arrested orphanage workers will face between three and seven years in prison if convicted. They all deny the accusations, according to Levon Baghdasarian, a lawyer representing two of them.
“I am more than hopeful that many things will be cleared up during an objective investigation,” said Baghdasarian. He claimed that the “witness” who alerted the police did not implicate his clients in the violence.
The orphanage in question has 77 children aged 6 and younger. Many of them have health problems.
This and other orphanages are overseen and inspected by a department on children’s affairs at the Armenian Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs. They all have been in quarantine since February due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Unfortunately we cannot say that this was an isolated case,” the head of the department, Anahit Kalantarian, said, commenting on the alleged child abuse.
Kalantarian said that her subordinates most recently visited the orphanage last year and found no indications of ill-treatment of orphans living there. She said they have not been able to inspect it this year because of the continuing quarantine.
The orphanage’s former director, Liana Karapetian, and three other individuals were charged last December with arranging illegal adoptions of Armenian children by foreigners in return for bribes. Karapetian was fired shortly afterwards despite denying the accusations.
The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs has still not appointed a new director. During a job contest organized in May it received 19 applications for the vacant position.
The ministry did not select any of those applicants and decided to hold another contest instead. Kalantarian said its results will be announced before the end of this month.