by Emil Danielyan
Reprinted from RFE/RL
The Armenian government is planning to make fresh and potentially far-reaching changes in its rules and procedures for international adoptions of children from Armenia following an RFE/RL report suggesting that they may still be riddled with corruption.
Relevant proposals drawn up by Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian’s office aim to increase the transparency of the process and reduce the role of obscure local middlemen working for Western adoption agencies. They are also meant to make it easier for Armenian families to adopt or bring up orphans.
An April 2011 report by RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) said that U.S. adoption agencies seem to continue to make thousands of dollars in informal payments to Armenian officials dealing with foreign adoptions. In particular, it cited a sample contract signed by one such agency, Hopscotch Adoptions, with 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 “customary” in Armenia and Georgia and do not violate U.S. law.
“Gifts and gratuities” were also a separate spending category in a sample agreement that was offered by another U.S. agency, Adopt Abroad, at least until last April.
Officials at the Armenian Ministry of Justice as well as anti-corruption campaigners in Yerevan agreed at the time that such payments amount to bribes and are therefore illegal in Armenia.
Government sources say Prime Minister Sarkisian took the report very seriously, instructing his senior staff to initiate a major revision of existing adoption rules. They were quick to come up with relevant proposals. Those were submitted in June, along with copies of the Hopscotch contract obtained by RFE/RL, to an inter-agency government commission on adoptions headed by Justice Minister Hrayr Tovmasian.