YEREVAN—The Armenian National Police Department has unveiled several more cases of potential illegal international adoptions following the launch of a National Security Service (NSS) investigation into the matter last week. In a video posted to the Police Department’s official YouTube channel on November 19, Lieutenant Colonel Vache Hovsepyan, who heads the police-dedicated organized crime unit, revealed that his team had uncovered cases dating as far back as 2009.
Elaborating on some of the investigation’s preliminary findings, Hovsepyan said orphanage staff members allegedly “provided signed and notarized documents releasing the infants from their biological parents’ custody and consenting to international adoption.” He continued, “However, when we contacted the parents in question, they revealed that they had never signed any such documents, nor had they consented to adoption.”
Hovsepyan also discussed the widespread use of intimidation tactics to receive written consent from parents. He recounted a particular case in which the director of an orphanage allegedly threatened the parents with cutting off access to their child and forging their signature if they refused to consent to international adoption.
The Armenian Weekly spoke with several adoptive families in the United States, under the condition of anonymity, who have largely corroborated these developments. Some of their adoption stories date all the way back to 2005. “My daughter’s birth parents were absolutely shocked when [we] reached out to them,” said one of the parents. “They had been told years ago by the hospital that their daughter had died,” she continued. According to her, the birth parents denied ever signing any adoption papers, despite signatures appearing on the notarized adoption documents which she shared with The Armenian Weekly.
International adoptions without the consent of the biological parents constitute a breach of the Criminal Code. The current law on adoptions prioritizes requests by adoptive parents who hold Armenian citizenship. Orphaned children are only eligible for international adoption if they are not claimed locally within a three-month period.
Robin Sizemore, executive director at Hopscotch Adoptions, one of two major US-based adoption agencies operating in Armenia, says that the inter-country adoptions are tightly regulated under the Hague Convention to prevent human trafficking of minors. According to her, the inter-country adoption process may take up to several years from start to finish. Prospective adoptive parents are heavily vetted before submitting an initial application to the Office of the Prime Minister of Armenia which could take up to four months to review. Once a child is referred, the adopting parents are allowed to make a visit to Armenia which includes another vetting process by the Armenian Ministry of Justice, after which documents must be re-submitted to the Prime Minister’s office for final approval. Adoption papers and other documents are then translated and couriered to the United States where the adoption agency begins the process of filing an I-800 package. Those documents are then re-submitted to the US Embassy in Yerevan, which reviews the application yet again before requesting a court date for the prospective adoptive parents in Yerevan. Following the final court decision and the issuance of the proper immigration paperwork, parents can start the process of repatriating their adoptive children.
“We only placed 13 children between 2016 and 2018 and will have only placed one child in 2019,” said Sizemore in an email interview with The Armenian Weekly. “This honestly kills my heart. Have you seen the children? No one will come for them.”
Sizemore suggested that at least some cases of improperly conducted inter-country adoptions may have come about by exploiting loopholes in Armenia’s relatively loose surrogacy laws. “Domestic PAPs [prospective adoptive parents] made private arrangements directly with birth mothers prior to the birth of children or took custody of a newborn directly from the hospital. Neither of these practices is legal but had been traditionally acceptable for domestic families,” read her email response.
She also stressed that her organization always encourages adoptive families to maintain ties to their adoptive children’s birth country, with many making return trips to reunite with relatives in Armenia. “Birth families are so relieved that another mother is doing what they could not do for their child,” she insisted.
Armenian Police are cooperating with the authorities of “several foreign states” through Interpol to track down some of the cases, particularly those in Italy and the United States. Seemingly in response to the concern, the US Embassy in Yerevan tweeted a statement confirming the United States’ commitment “to safeguarding inter-country adoption as an option for children in need” with the hashtag #NationalAdoptionMonth. The tweet also contains a link to the State Department’s guidelines on legal international adoptions.
We are deeply committed to safeguarding intercountry adoption as an option for children in need, and we’re proud that American families adopt half the eligible children worldwide. For information about intercountry adoptions visit: https://t.co/7AVNRVqGP6 #NationalAdoptionMonth
— US Embassy, Armenia (@usembarmenia) November 26, 2019
Answering questions from the press on Monday, Armenian Human Rights Ombudsman Arman Tatoyan called these recent developments “deeply concerning” but confirmed that his office is closely monitoring the ongoing investigation.
This is an ongoing investigation, and The Armenian Weekly will be closely following its developments.