On November 14, the National Security Service of Armenia (NSS) announced that it had uncovered an organised crime ring involved in facilitating the illegal adoption of over 30 Armenian children by foreigners.
According to the announcement, two Armenian citizens have been identified as the main organisers of the scheme which includes several maternity wards, government agencies, and orphanages.
The NSS claims that from 2016-2018, a number of young women who had applied for abortions were coerced to carry their pregancies to term, sometimes even under threat, and eventually give birth to the child and give them up for adoption.
Other cases include medical workers fabricating or exaggerating a newborn’s illness and pressuring mothers to give up their newborns for adoption based on false information. The NSS stated that these workers ‘weren’t even ashamed to demand bribes from the new mothers for “rendered medical services”’.
Children sent abroad
Once the parents officially gave up their parental rights, most of the newborns were sent to orphanages. Thereafter, many of the children had their medical papers doctored to including fake details about their health status.
The orphanages allegedly used these documents to deter Armenian citizens from adopting these children.
Aida Muradyan, Head of the Child Protection Network at World Vision Armenia, explained to OC Media the details of the scheme.
‘Foreigners who want to adopt are put on waiting lists, because according to the law, locals have to be given first priority when it comes to adopting children in Armenia’, she said. ‘By claiming these children have certain illnesses, locals who never adopt children with disabilities or long-term illnesses, ended up not adopting these children after which they were given up for adoption to foreigners.’
She said that the adoption sector is one of the most corrupt both in the country and around the world.
The NSS has launched a criminal case and an investigation is underway.
The Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs had recently halted all adoption processes for the investigation to get underway.
In an interview with H1, Armenia’s Public Broadcaster, Deputy Minister of Labor and Social Affairs Zhanna Andreasyan explained that according to official data, during the past several years, more children were adopted from abroad than domestically. The majority of those adopting Armenian children were from Italy.
In a Facebook post, Minister of Health Arsen Torosyan wrote that any medical institution or medical worker that has been involved or will get involved in any similar future scheme must be held accountable with the full force of the law.
Aida Muradyan believes there will still be more revelations to come including criminal investigations into hospitals, ministries and the police itself.
Recently, the government passed a decision to grant housing ownership certificates to 300 orphans who have turned 18 and have gone through the orphanage system.
Subsequent Armenian governments had promised to provide housing for young adults leaving the orphanage system since 2003, however, the promise had not been fulfilled.
Aida Muradyan said that there were always cases of corruption and the programme was halted in 2014. Until recently, those who left the orphanage at 18 were given a lump sum of ֏ 50,000 ($105).
Along with housing certificates, those past the age of majority will also receive legal, financial, organisational, and psychological support, the government announced.
Preliminary estimates by the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs value the programme at almost ֏1.9 billion ($4 million).
In addition to providing housing for former residents of orphanages, Minister of Labour and Social Affairs Zaruhi Batoyan announced that the government would construct five state-owned houses and five assisted-living homes.
In an interview with OC Media, the ministry’s chief spokesperson, Sona Martirosyan, explained that this new housing is intended for young adults with disabilities who are 18 and older as well as for elderly residents of retirement homes.
This is part of a wider campaign of ‘deinstitutionalisation’ in Armenia. This includes closing down all orphanages and specialised boarding houses in the country with the aim of returning children back to their families or placing them in the foster care system, a fairly new initiative in Armenia.
There are currently 130 children living in orphanages or specialised boarding houses in Armenia.
Martirosyan told OC Media that the ministry is also focused on providing community services, especially for children with disabilities, including specialised daycare centres.
‘Our main goal is to get children out of institutions and ensure they have a stable family life’, Martirosyan said.
In an interview with OC Media, Lusine Saghumyan, a human rights specialist and former Child and Family Support Programme Manager at Children of Armenia Fund (COAF), said that when a child is deprived of a family life their basic human rights are violated.
‘What’s important is that the Ministry and Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan have prioritized the deinstitutionalisation programme’, Saghumyan said.
The Ministry plans to complete the deinstitutionalisation programme by 2023, with both state-run and privately-owned orphanages being shut down.