Armenia’s National Security Service Investigating Illegal International Adoption Cases

YEREVAN—Armenia’s top intelligence agency—the National Security Service (NSS)—has launched a criminal investigation into reports of illegal international adoptions which allegedly took place between 2016 and 2018.

An NSS press release dated November 14 reveals that “two Armenian citizens used their connections at several government maternity hospitals and orphanages to organize the adoption of at least 30 infants” by families in Italy as well as the United States in what constitutes “a gross violation of Armenian law.” 

This revelation, though shocking, was short on details, leading to the spread of macabre rumors concerning organ harvesting. Taking questions from journalists, Security Council Secretary Armen Grigoryan commented on these concerns. “No word at the moment on any organ trafficking, but we will keep you updated,” he replied.

According to the NSS, between 2016 and 2018, medical staff convinced “at least a dozen women” seeking pregnancy terminations “for social or health reasons” to carry to term in exchange for bribes. These women were then allegedly instructed to exaggerate their newborns’ intellectual or physical disabilities and provide written consent to transfer them to orphanages with the appropriate documentation. The alleged ringleaders would then financially benefit from putting these children up for international adoption. The NSS did not provide any details on the families who later adopted these children, nor the status of the children themselves. It remains unclear whether the foster applicants were aware of, or willingly participated in, the alleged scheme. Radio Free Europe reports that 54 children were officially adopted by foreign foster parents during that time frame.

Armenia, along with other former Soviet states, has seen an increase in international adoptions following the breakup of the Soviet Union. Russia was once the second largest source of international adoptions until the practice was banned in 2012, though Ukraine still ranks in the top five. Most of these children have been adopted by families in the West with the United States, Spain, France, Italy, Canada,  Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Australia being the most common destinations. Evangelical Christians, in particular, have been known to adopt children with disabilities or girls from countries where these traits would otherwise cause social exclusion. Unsurprisingly this demand has unwittingly propelled a sort of black market for orphans in their countries of origin.

Armenia’s orphanages—both State and privately run—have been surrounded by controversy for decades. A Soviet legacy, these often under-funded, under-staffed and under-regulated facilities have been criticized for providing inadequate nurture and care necessary for children’s intellectual, emotional and physical development. Many such institutions have been recipients of generous endowments from well-meaning donors in the Diaspora, hoping to alleviate the conditions for care. According to a sobering Human Rights Watch (HRW) report, however, this financial assistance had the opposite effect.  

The practice of pegging the level of state funding to the number of children in these institutions combined with assistance from the Diaspora creates a financial incentive to take in more children than these facilities can handle. Funding which would otherwise be better utilized to help provide care for vulnerable children at home has instead encouraged families to institutionalize them. UNICEF estimates that 90 percent of the 3,500 children registered to various care facilities in Armenia have at least one living parent, while 670 of them live with some form of disability. Twenty schools across the country provide special needs education, though only 18 percent of those enrolled actually live with special needs. 

Several of these care facilities have also been at the center of abuse and corruption scandals in recent years, at least one of which involved a former deputy labor and social affairs minister. In response, previous governments have pledged to reform the country’s discriminatory educational and care practices towards vulnerable children with or without disabilities. Despite some genuine efforts, key legislation, including much-needed amendments to the Child Code, remain in bureaucratic limbo.

The Human Rights Watch has repeatedly called for the closure of these child-care facilities. “The government and donors instead should help families to care for their children by moving services out of institutions and into communities where families can access them,” says Jane Buchanan, HRW’s Deputy Director for Disability Rights. “It’s economically more efficient. But more importantly, it protects children from the harms of institutionalization.” 

These recent developments have led to considerable debate among charitable organizations both in the Diaspora and Armenia on the merits of orphanages as an effective method to care for vulnerable children. Other alternatives such as foster care, international adoptions and financial assistance for families have been suggested. However, these options have been criticized in turn for having flaws of their own.

This latest investigation into the alleged international adoption racket follows in the wake of a directive from the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs to temporarily halt all international adoptions back in September. Labor Minister Zaruhi Batoyan, herself a long-time disabilities and human rights activist (and Armenia’s first cabinet minister with a disability), raised the alarm after uncovering discrepancies in the official figures reported by adoption agencies. 

Health Minister Arsen Torosyan also weighed in on the scandal. “Any medical facility or healthcare provider which has, or continues to be involved in this racket will be prosecuted with the full force of the law,” he wrote on his social media profile. 

Earlier this month, the Armenian government, at Minister Batoyan’s insistence, moved to close four boarding schools and one orphanage in Gyumri, Byureghavan, Vanadzor and Dilijan. (The Byureghavan boarding school gained notoriety in 2015 when its director was charged for embezzlement as well as child abuse). Batoyan rationalized the decision as necessary to “ensure the rights of children to family life” but noted that the move won’t absolve the government from its responsibility to provide financial and institutional support to vulnerable children. “We are aware that this is a complicated process, but the fact remains that there is no alternative,” she added.

This month, the government is also considering a bill to the tune of 1.9 billion AMD (4 million USD), which would provide housing assistance, vocational training, as well as access to continued psychological support to help orphanage alumni integrate into society, a task which has hitherto fallen on the shoulders of non-profit groups.

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Raffi Elliott

Columnist & Armenia Correspondent
Raffi Elliott is a Canadian-Armenian political risk analyst and journalist based in Yerevan, Armenia. As correspondent and columnist for the Armenian Weekly, he covers socioeconomic, political, business and diplomatic issues in Armenia, with occasional thoughts on culture and urbanism.

12 Comments

  1. http://armenianadoptionadventure.blogspot.com/

    This has been going on for many years, first when North Carolina Adoptions had a Armenia country program than that country director opened up her own adoption agency in 2006 and it was horrible from 2006 to 2012 when the Hague convention was signed by Armenia.
    Many healthy Armenian babies were sold to odars, who paid upwards of $47,000 even commanding about $30,000 for special needs children.
    Armenia needs to provide for ALL THEIR children, once they are adopted by these odars White Genocide or Cultural Genocide is performed. The children don’t learn their culture, language or even foods.
    Lets offer the best care for our children.
    Here is the tax return of this adoption agency. yes they get to declare “non – profit” status but as you can see from the 5 year income they are far from making no profit they makes lots of money, this same horrible individual is now being scrutinized in Serbia.
    https://www.slideshare.net/VanessaKachadurian/hopscotch-adoptions-2016-tax-returns-500k-in-revenue

    • Of course, in fact many of these children would have been aborted rather than living with Odars, especially special needs/female fetuses who are often the subjects of selective abortion.

    • More important than that is the fate of these children. That is what the issue is. Do we know where they are and whether they are doing well? Are they in families who love them or else (I don’t want to go into ugly criminal details about else)?

  2. Um, awkward…white genocide doesn’t mean what you think it means. You probably want to stop using that term.

    Obviously, this situation requires investigation and it goes without saying that family reunification and deinstitutionalization, where appropriate, is the best outcome. But it’s not possible for every child depending on the family’s situation. The other important consideration is what safeguards would be taken to ensure that children removed from orphanages and placed in foster homes aren’t then trafficked or abused?

    • So you are praising Robin Sizemores tactics using bribes to procure children? Advertising out of 2 sides of her mouth to evangelical nutcases “Please adopt th IU s childvwill be institutionalized for life” while touting Armenian orphanages as the cleanest and best compared to other former soviet countries. Serbia has had nothing but IU issues with Hopscotch Adoptions and that stink case will soon surface as It involves someone who us known as child sex trafficking in Eastern Europe. Bribes paid in country by cash. Her facilitator in Armenia never declares or pays taxes on the cash.
      Armenian diaspora has built many mother children facilities to help keep families together. Many men left armenia for work in Russia abandoning their families orphanages were used to insure feeding, education, housing of the poor 98% of the children in orphanages are “Social Orphans” and have at leastv1 parent.
      No mother who is poor should be forced to give birth to her child or put them in an irphanage. We need to help our next generations with job training, building the economy.
      Armenians need to get rid of their old prejud IU ces toward sick or handicapped children. Some can be brilliant contributors to mankind like Stephen Hawking.
      These adoption practices must stop in Armenia immediately

  3. Publish my email address see if I care. I will say that this kind of abuse makes me ASHAMED TO BE AN ARMENIAN AMERICAN.! My family was forced out of Diyarbekr in April 1915 during the Genocide. Half of my family could have been like these children! One of the reasons I served in the US Army as a Tank Crewman was to prevent what happened to my family for some other family in the world!! I have no regrets with respect to what I may have given up! I read terrible things like this going on in Armenia and I find myself ashamed for my people being so shallow. Most especially when considering what the Armenians have had to endure. Shame on us!! Please don’t cross my path if you have a hand I this type of conduct!! It’s something I would expect from a Turk!

    • I agree Richard Jan, I am embarrassed too. Its sounds like from the news International Adoption in general is rife with fraud. I had a friend that adopted many years ago from Armenia, it was in the bleak of times for Armenia. No one really questioned them and I believe they could do the proceedings themselves at that time I want to say it was about 2001.

  4. Great Shame. I would never have ever thought that this sort of thing would have happened in Armenia. Shame on those who encouraged this, shame on those lousy people who went through and bargained the infants existence elsewhere. What sort of people are these irresponsible undignified horrendously hungry for financial gain and hopelessly out of touch with reality people are these monsters. Shame on all those who were involved. It’s time for a complete investigation and to bring these people to justice.

  5. The Armenian Diaspora must wake up and begin helping the government help these families pay for food, electricity and basic living conditions so they don’t drop their children off at an orphanage. We are blessed in America– Start sending money over there through the many great documented organizations. We can then turn our self righteous anger into deeds. Talk is cheap. Let us as families, grandkids included– begin to make a difference in the lives of the Families of Armenia.

  6. In Armenia, children are typically relinquished to residential childcare institutions (RCI) either because the child’s health situation is perceived to be or actually requires full-time residential care or because the parents are incapable or unwilling to raise the child, typically for economic or social reasons. Because nuclear child rearing environments are often not a viable alternative in Armenia, policymakers struggle to identify the “best” interests of the child. Advocates of deinstitutionalization and family reunification assert one of two positions: first, all things being equal, children should be raised by biological family because there is no emotionally safer and more nurturing environment than that which a biological parent can provide; and second, all children, under all circumstances, should be raised by biological family. The latter rejects the “all things being equal” aphorism in favor of the repudiation of institutionalization.

    The situation is far more complicated than “closing down institutions.” Putting aside the incongruity of a maxim of deinstitutionalizing all children under all circumstances, there are, unfortunately, children who require institutionalization. Moreover, institutions can offer significant advantages (access to education and consistent medical care) over biological family members, who, by definition, have failed in their duties.

    No one can justify human trafficking. It’s a crime under international law and should be prosecuted. However, isolated cases of human trafficking do not mean that all RCI are bad, or corrupt, or do not offer a safe haven for the most vulnerable of Armenian children. Often, the best interests of the child require institutionalization, and these RCI in Armenia are but ONE option to consider when evaluating where a child should live.

    • It should also be noted that George Yacoubian opened up a private law office . One of his areas of expertise is Adoption Law and offering services to would be adoptive parents for Armenia.

  7. To “John” and what about those children born with Special Needs that medical staff lie and say “they will die in a few days just leave them at the hospital to die” here is 1 story of an Armenian family this happened to. They searched and found their daughter in a institution, down syndrome and not even learned to walk. These institutions get about $5,000 per yr. Per child. these Down Syndrome children commanded $27,000 in adoption. Let’s use this money to train, educate parents, special needs instructions and help Armenian society learn more about inclusion and not having fear of caring for a Spec IU al Needs child. Human Rights Group is watching Armenia https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/02/22/witness-wherever-she-i-will-find-her

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