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Changing Adoption Procedures Amid Allegations Of Corruption
by Emil Danielyan, Radio Free Europe, September 22, 2011
YEREVAN -- The Armenian government is considering changes in its rules
and procedures for international adoptions in an effort to stamp out
alleged corrupt practices.
Proposals drawn up by Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian’s staff aim to
increase the transparency of the process and reduce the role of obscure
local middlemen working for Western adoption agencies.
The proposed changes also aim to make it easier for Armenian families to
adopt or act as foster parents.
Sarkisian's staff is proposing that an existing database of all Armenian
children available for adoption be posted on the Internet so it is
available to all prospective parents.
They also called for the creation of a separate database of prospective
parents, which would facilitate direct online contact with the relevant
Armenian authorities in the initial stages of the adoption process.
“The root cause of this problem is a lack of transparency, and we must
do something about it,” a senior government official told RFE/RL’s
The proposals are currently being discussed by an interagency
commission, headed by Justice Minister Hrayr Tovmasian.
It will decide in the coming months whether it will be necessary to
amend Armenia's Family Code, which would require parliamentary approval,
or to simply change existing procedures, which could be enacted by the
government without legislative action.
Under the existing rules, the Armenian Ministry of Labor and Social
Issues draws up and keeps a national registry of children available for
domestic and foreign adoption.
The list is supposed to be accessible to all prospective adoptive
parents. But in practice, even government agencies say they have trouble
accessing information about the children listed on the registry.
The registry's opacity has made it possible for shadowy middlemen
operating between foreign adoption agencies and Armenian officials to
collect thousands of dollars in fees -- or "gifts" -- to
The proposed changes followed a report by RFE/RL's Armenian Service in
April exposing such practices.
Specifically, the report cited a sample contract signed by one U.S.
agency, Hopscotch Adoptions, based in High Point, North Carolina, which
assists Americans wishing to adopt Armenian and Georgian children.
The contract, offered to a potential client in the United States in
2007, explained that almost $5,000 of more than $30,000 charged by
Hopscotch for every adoption would be spent on “gifts to foreign
service providers and government functionaries performing ministerial
tasks as an offer of thanks for prompt service.”
It claimed that such gifts are common in Armenia and Georgia and do not
violate U.S. law.
“It is customary [in Armenia and Georgia] to provide a nominal gift to
a government functionary who, for instance, prepares a passport,
notarizes a document or places a seal after the service is
provided," the contract read. "The custom stems from the
economic reality that a service provider or entry-level civil servant
earns less than $75 a week -- hardly enough to feed a family.”
Boosting Numbers Of Local Foster Parents
In an interview with RFE/RL's Armenian Service, Hopscotch Adoptions'
founder, Robin Sizemore, did not deny the authenticity of the sample
But in an email to RFE/RL, she wrote that "in Armenia and in any
other country that prohibits gifts or gratuities, no gifts or gratuities
are distributed or permitted.”
She did not explain why such gifts and gratuities were included in the
Officials at the Armenian Ministry of Justice as well as anticorruption
campaigners in Yerevan say such payments amount to bribes and are
therefore illegal in Armenia.
A sample agreement offered by another U.S. agency, Adopt Abroad, based
in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, listed “gifts and gratuities” among its
fees at least until last April. Adopt Abroad did not respond to requests
Government sources say that, following the RFE/RL report, Prime Minister
Sarkisian instructed his government to revise the country's adoption
Moreover, none of the Yerevan-based adoption brokers is known to be
officially licensed or registered with tax authorities.
The government is also seeking to curb foreign adoptions by
reinvigorating a 2004 program which pays local families to act as foster
The government hopes the new online database will help increase the
number of Armenians seeking to become foster parents and also increase
payments, which are currently about $250 a month per child.
Thus far, the program has had only limited success, with only 24
children currently placed with foster care providers.
According to the Ministry of Labor and Social affairs, 61 Armenian
children were adopted by foreigners in 2010.
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|“In all of us there
is a hunger, marrow-deep, to know our heritage, to know who we are
and where we have come from. Without this enriching knowledge, there
is a hollow yearning . . . and the most disquieting
Alex Haley, Author of Roots