Archive for category Adoption Issues

Ministers Vow To Tighten Rules For Foreign Adoption

(Source: Radio Liberty by Ruzanna Khachatrian)

Prime Minister Andranik Markarian and a member of his cabinet confirmed on Wednesday plans to tighten rules for the adoption of Armenian children by foreign nationals, admitting that the existing procedures leave room for government abuse.

But they said law-enforcement authorities have no compelling evidence to prosecute any government official in a position to affect foreign adoption on charges of bribery.

That the process is tainted with corruption was suggested by an RFE/RL report last June. It was based on the online correspondence of an Armenian-American businessman based in Nagorno-Karabakh with U.S. adoptive parents. Some of them told Ara Manoogian that their adoption expenditures included thousands of dollars worth of bribes paid to relevant Armenian officials.

Social Security Minister Aghvan Vartanian asked the office of Armenia’s prosecutor-general to examine the report. The prosecutors have questioned several individuals but, according to Vartanian, have found no grounds to launch criminal proceedings against anyone.

“A criminal case has not been opened because it is difficult to find concrete evidence [of corruption],” he told RFE/RL. “But it is obvious that there are some worrisome practices.”

Markarian likewise admitted “some problems” with the foreign adoptions, but claimed that his government has rendered the process more stringent in the last two years. Speaking to RFE/RL, he said the requirements will be tightened further soon.

Vartanian confirmed this, saying: “The number of foreign adoptions has grown in recent years, and that worries us. Our ministry is now drawing up appropriate changes to the adoption rules.”

The process is currently handled by a high-level government commission comprising the ministers of justice, education, health and social security and other officials. It usually takes between four and six months and also requires positive decisions by several other government bodies. The final clearance is given by the full cabinet of ministers.

According to the Social Security Ministry, 62 Armenian children, mainly orphans, were adopted by foreigners last year, and 37 others in the first half of this year. Vartanian complained that the existing procedures are too “simple” as they mainly require adoptive parents to make only one trip to Armenia and have a minimum annual income of $24,000 per person. He said a foreign adoption should be allowed only in cases where the government can not find Armenians parents for an orphan.

Markarian said the government commission has already decided to allow foreign citizens without ethnic Armenian roots to adopt only mentally and physically disabled children.

The change was first announced in early August by a representative of a U.S. adoption agency that has for years been involved in Armenia. “We are completing [the adoption by] our last non-Armenian family next week and will no longer accept non-Armenian families into the program,” she wrote to an Internet discussion group.

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Armenia: Adoption Procedures Come Into Question

(Source: Radio Liberty by Emil Danielyan)

 

In Armenia, government sources say that at least 10 percent of the country’s orphaned children were adopted last year by foreigners, mainly American and French nationals. But information obtained by RFE/RL suggests that for foreign would-be parents, the state-administered adoption process comes fettered with thousands of dollars in “informal” expenditures that critics say amount to little more than bribery.

Yerevan, 25 June 2003 (RFE/RL) — In a secluded hillside compound overlooking downtown Yerevan, a group of young children are beginning the first lessons of their life.

Sitting on tiny chairs, the 2- and 3-year-olds are learning to count. They watch as their nurse — a middle-aged woman who is the only substitute for the parental care and love they have been denied since birth — lays out red blocks on the table in front of them.

“Everybody is counting: one, two, three, four,” she said.

Some of these children at the Nork-Marash district orphanage in the Armenian capital may eventually travel thousands of miles to experience the security of a permanent adoptive family living abroad. Some adults in Armenia stand to gain from the transaction as well. International adoptions mean lots of money.

Armenia has surfaced on the radar screens of a number of American adoption agencies. Internet discussion groups bring together childless couples looking to adopt an Armenian youngster. The reason for the growing interest was summed up by one American couple that adopted an Armenian toddler last year. They said they picked the remote Caucasus nation because they had to travel there just once and only for two weeks.

The Armenian government has the exclusive authority to sanction foreign adoptions, and support such arrangements. Officials in Yerevan like Aram Karapetian, who heads the government commission regulating the adoption procedure, says the only place for a child is with a family.

“I think that children will feel better in a family than in the best and most modern orphanage,” he said.

But Armenia’s adoption practices have not escaped the corruption that affects so many areas of life in the country.

Ara Manoogian is an Armenian-American charity worker living in Nagorno-Karabakh. Using the pseudonym Jennifer Smith, Manoogian has communicated extensively by e-mail with Americans knowledgeable about the adoption procedure. Posing as a woman from the southern U.S. state of Texas looking to adopt two Armenian babies, he has gained valuable insight into the darker side of Armenian adoptions.

He tells RFE/RL that his research suggests the entire process is handled by local government “facilitators” who work independently or through a Western adoption agency. The facilitators commonly charge adoptive parents between $9,000 and $13,000 in informal fees. Most of that money is said to trickle upwards to relevant government officials.

Two such facilitators based in Yerevan who were contacted by RFE/RL strongly denied engaging in such activities. They claimed they have arranged only one adoption, on solely humanitarian grounds, and did not earn a penny.

But the same two facilitators, when contacted by “Jennifer Smith” last year, gave a different message. By e-mail, they wrote: “We can be your authorized facilitators for the adoption process. Our services are to be paid.” They later specified the cost of their services: at least $9,000.

The facilitators were recommended to “Jennifer” by a university professor in the United States who earlier this month succeeded in adopting a 6-year-old girl from an orphanage in the Armenian city of Gyumri. The fees, the professor explained, include financial “gifts of gratitude” to Armenian officials, and added that the facilitators “will let you know how much each official received.”

Similar sums were cited by other Americans who had worked with different agents. One adoptive mother of a 3-year-old Armenian boy in February told Jennifer: “When we arrived, we gave our facilitator about $12,000. I know her fee was about $1,500; about $1,000 went into housing; probably $500 for food; and I don’t know how much for transportation and gifts.”

An American lawyer of Armenian descent who inquired about the costs likewise informed a friend: “Estimated expenses are $15,000, which includes $2,500 for the Armenian representatives who will run all this process. The remaining money will go you know where.”

Karapetian, however, vehemently denies government officials are taking bribes in return for approving an adoption. He says the government is not responsible for the fees collected by private intermediaries.

“If someone comes up to you and says, ‘I can arrange things for you, give me $20,000’ and you give it, that has nothing to do with any [state] bureaucrat,” Karapetian said. “I always say [to adoptive parents], ‘Don’t be duped.'”

The existing procedure for foreign adoptions, set by the Armenian government in February 2002, leaves a broad circle of government bodies and officials in a position to approve, accelerate, or block adoptions. The most important of them is Karapetian’s commission. It is headed by Justice Minister David Harutiunian and comprises high-ranking officials, including the ministers of education, health, and social security.

The entire process takes several months and requires a chain of approval from not only the commission but also the Foreign Ministry, the police, and even the local community where the particular orphanage is located. The final clearance is given by the full cabinet of ministers.

Foreign adoption is widely practiced around the world, mainly involving the transfer of orphans from impoverished countries in Asia, Latin America, and East Europe to the affluent West. Adoption has some elements of transnational commerce, with various categories of children carrying their own market value. Healthy newborn infants, for example, are in greatest demand.

One California-based foreign adoption agency has a detailed price list of children on its website along with the number and cost of trips prospective U.S. parents have to take to a particular country. Armenia requires only a single trip for one of the adoptive parents. They can select a child through a facilitator. Furthermore, they are not even personally interviewed by the Armenian adoption commission.

The main requirement in Armenian foreign adoption procedure is a guaranteed annual income of at least $24,000 per parent. Also important, though not mandatory, is that the parents have ethnic Armenian roots. The official paperwork on the Armenian side is expected to cost no more than $100, and there are no other legally defined fees.

There are five state-run orphanages across Armenia housing about 600 children — a relatively low figure for a country of 3 million that has gone through dramatic political and social upheavals since the Soviet collapse. Officials attribute this to Armenia’s traditionally strong family bonds.

About 30 children — a dozen of them from the Nork-Marash orphanage, have already been taken abroad this year. Those who will stay on in Armenia will face an uncertain future after coming of age. It is not uncommon for parentless children to remain at their orphanages even after they reach adulthood. Many of them have neither homes nor jobs.

Lena Hayrapetian is a senior official at the Armenian Ministry of Social Security in charge of children’s affairs. She also defends foreign adoptions: “Our top priority is to return children to families. They thus get serious guarantees for leading a normal life.”

Hayrapetian and other officials say foreigners are generally allowed to adopt only those children for whom the authorities have failed to find Armenian parents. They say although Armenians adopted twice as many orphans as foreigners did last year, they are less willing to accept children with mental or physical disabilities.

Disabled children make up at least half of Armenia’s orphaned youngsters. As things stand now, finding new parents in the West may be their only chance for a decent life.

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Rights And Wrongs Of Child Adoption In Armenia

(Source: Radio Liberty by Emil Danielyan)

 

Little residents of this secluded compound on a hillside overlooking downtown Yerevan are learning the first lessons of their life. Sitting on tiny chairs, a group of children aged between two and three are taught to count red cubes laid out on the table by their nurse. A middle-aged woman who is supposed to substitute for parental care and love they were unjustly denied upon their birth.

Some of these children at the orphanage in the city’s Nork-Marash district will eventually feel the irreplaceable warmth of a family thousands of miles away from their country. For some adults in Armenia, that will translate into something very material: money. A lot of money.

Armenia has become one of the focal points of the worldwide practice of cross-border adoptions in recent years. Government data show that at least 57 Armenian children, or roughly 10 percent of its orphan population, were adopted by foreign, mainly U.S. and French nationals in 2002 and about 30 of them in the first half of this year. The country is now on the radar screens of several U.S. adoption agencies. There is even a special discussion group on the Internet bringing together childless couples interested in Armenia.

The reason why they are interested was summed up by a U.S. couple that adopted an Armenian toddler last year. They said they picked remote Armenia because they had to travel there once and spend there only two weeks, and because “the children are beautiful.”

The official view of the Armenian government, which has the exclusive authority to sanction foreign adoptions, is that a child can be happy only when living in a family. Officials also stress that most of the foreign adoptive parents are of ethnic Armenian origin.

“I think that children will feel better in a family than in the best and most modern orphanage,” says Aram Karapetian, the secretary of a special government commission regulating the process.

The problem is that this highly delicate sphere does not appear free of corruption that has engulfed so many aspects of life in Armenia. Documents obtained by RFE/RL suggest that the government-administered adoption process involves thousands of dollars in informal expenditures, apparently bribes paid by adoptive parents and their agents.

The scale of the practice is revealed by an online investigation conducted by Ara Manoogian, an Armenian-American charity worker living in Nagorno-Karabakh. Disguised under the pseudonym “Jennifer Smith,” Manoogian has extensively communicated by e-mail with Americans knowledgeable about the process. Posing as a Texan woman seeking to adopt two Armenian babies, he has extracted valuable insights into the dark sides of the foreign adoptions in Armenia.

It emerged that the whole process is handled by local government-connected “facilitators” who are either linked to a Western adoption agency or operate independently. Various sources put the amount of hefty fees charged by them at between $9,000 and $13,000 per child. Most of the money is said to be spent on “gifts” to relevant government officials.

Two such Yerevan-based facilitators, a man and a woman called Gagik and Hasmik, strongly denied engaging in such activities when contacted by this correspondent last week. They claimed that they have arranged only one adoption on solely humanitarian grounds, without earning a penny.

But what Gagik and Hasmik told “Jennifer” in a series of e-mails was just the opposite. “We can be your authorized persons and facilitators for the adoption process. Our services are to be paid,” they wrote in December before specifying the cost of their services: at least $9,000.

The facilitators were recommended to “Jennifer” by Jan Bartlett, an Iowa State University professor who adopted a 6-year-old girl from an orphanage in Gyumri earlier this month. The fees, Bartlett explained, include financial “gifts of gratitude” to Armenian officials. “G & H will let you know how much each official received,” she said.

Similar sums were cited by other Americans who had worked with different agents. Dana Nyholm, the adoptive mother of a 3-year-old Armenian boy she and her husband named Sam, wrote last February: “When we arrived, we gave our facilitator about $12,000. I know her fee was about $1,500; about $1,000 went into housing; probably $500 for food; and I don’t know how much for transportation and gifts.”

A U.S. lawyer of Armenian descent who inquired about the costs involved likewise informed a friend: “Estimated expenses are $15,000, which include $2,500 for Armenian representatives who will run all this process. Remaining will go…you know where.”

Karapetian, however, vehemently denies that any government official may be taking bribes in return for approving an adoption and says the government is not responsible for the fees collected by private intermediaries. “If someone comes up to you and says, ‘I can arrange things for you, give me 20,000 [dollars]’ and you give it, that has nothing to do with any [state] bureaucrat,” he says, adding that the entire paperwork inside Armenia should not cost over $100.

The existing procedure for foreign adoptions, set by the Armenian government in February 2002, leaves a broad circle of government bodies and officials who are in a position to approve, accelerate or block adoptions. The most important of them is Karapetian’s commission. It is headed by Justice Minister David Harutiunian and comprises high-ranking officials, including the ministers of education, health and social security.

The entire process takes several months and requires a chain of positive decisions not only by the commission but also the Foreign Ministry, the police and even the local community where a particular orphanage is located. The final clearance is given by the full cabinet of ministers headed by Prime Minister Andranik Markarian.

As recently as on June 18, it authorized the adoption of three children by citizens of the U.S., France and Turkey, the latter being ethnic Armenians. Incidentally, such decisions have never been made public by Markarian’s office.

Foreign adoptions are widely practiced around the world, mainly involving the transfer of orphans from impoverished countries of Asia, Latin America and East Europe to the affluent West. The practice has some elements of transnational commerce, with various categories of children having their own market value. Newborn healthy infants are in greatest demand.

One California-based agency, for example, has a detailed pricelist of children on its web site along with the number and cost of trips prospective U.S. parents have to take to a particular country. Armenia requires only a single trip for one of the adoptive parents. They can select a child through a facilitator. Furthermore, they are not even personally interviewed by the Armenian adoption commission.

The main requirement to them is a guaranteed annual income of at least $24,000 per person. Also important, though not mandatory, is to have ethnic Armenian roots.

There are five state-run orphanages across Armenia housing about 600 children — a relatively low figure for a country of 3 million that has gone through dramatic political and social upheavals since the Soviet collapse. Officials attribute it to traditional family values still espoused the vast majority of Armenians.

The Nork-Marash orphanage currently has 77 children all over the country aged up to six, making it the main target of people planning an adoption in Armenia. A dozen kids have already been taken abroad this year.

According to the orphanage director, Liana Karapetian, many of her children were temporarily placed there by their parents, mostly single mothers who claim to be too poor to feed and raise them. She says only a small part of them will be sent to other orphanages once they reach schooling age.

What they will do after coming of age is much less certain. The economic situation in Armenia hardly augurs well for their future. It is not uncommon for orphan grown-ups to stay in their orphanages because they have neither homes nor jobs.

“Our top priority is to return children to families. They thus get serious guarantees for leading a normal life,” says Lena Hayrapetian, a Social Security Ministry official in charge of children’s affairs.

Hayrapetian and other officials say foreigners are generally allowed to adopt those children for whom the authorities have failed to find new Armenian parents. According to them, although Armenians adopted twice as many orphans as foreigners last year, they are less likely to accept kids with mental or physical disabilities.

The latter make up at least half of the overall orphan population. As things stand now, finding new parents in the West may be their only chance for a decent life.

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