Armenia's adoption fraud: foreigners pay up to 25 thousand euros for a kid
Orphans for sale in Armenia
In Armenia, a preliminary investigation into the sale of orphans to foreigners has been completed. The investigation mostly concerned children with disabilities who are citizens of Armenia. 11 people were found guilty, including civil servants, who, in 2015-2018, were involved in an illegal scheme for the sale of children from specialized orphanages.
The Investigative Committee reports that “the identities of the participants in the criminal group, the entire chain, the role of each of them and the mechanism for the illegal adoption of children have been established”.
According to official data for 2021, 740 pupils were kept in orphanages in Armenia, more than 70% of them were children with disabilities. According to the statistics committee, only 17 children were adopted during the year. For most children with disabilities, the only hope of getting adopted is foreigners.
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“My child is my cross to bear”: the story of a rescued baby
“These are my children, they are twins. Here they are at the matinee of the farewell to the primer”, Levon shows the photos on his phone.
The twins are holding huge bouquets in their hands – almost their height, the girl – with large white bows, the boy – in a suit that is clearly too big for him.
8 years ago, when they were born, Levon was so excited that he could not close his eyes all night, he was impatient to see the babies. But in the morning in the maternity hospital, only the daughter was shown to the father․
“I entered the ward and saw my wife with swollen and red eyes. I knew right away that something bad had happened. The doctor came and said: “Congratulations, you have a healthy daughter”. I asked: “And the son?” He said: “I’m sorry, but the child has problems that are incompatible with life. It’s better to give him it up.”
My wife began to scream in horror, and I thought: my child is my cross to bear, whether he is healthy or sick, and answered: “We will not give him up, bring a child, he was born with a sister and will grow up with her”. The doctor said that the baby would not live until the end of the day. And I told him – no matter how long he lives, he is mine”, says Levon.
After realising that the parents would not abandon the child, the doctors brought the boy. Levon says he and his wife took turns sleeping over the next few weeks to constantly monitor their son’s condition. The maternity hospital did not tell them exactly what problems he had, and each time they offered to come for medical documents in a few days.
“It took us weeks to overcome this fear. We noticed that the child eats, sleeps and wakes up, like his sister, he began to smile with her. We realized that everything is in order. Eight years have passed, and there has never been a reason to go to the doctor”, says Levon.
Now, years later, when cases of illegal adoption of children are being uncovered in Armenia, he understood that, if not for his perseverance, his son could be one of them.
What does “illegal adoption” mean?
Under the definition given by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, adoptions are illegal if:
- they are a result of crimes such as child abduction, sale and trafficking,
- they occur in violation of established procedures, with forgery of official documents or forcibly,
- they occur without proper notification of the biological parents of the child or without their consent, and intermediaries show additional financial interest.
Illegal adoptions are carried out according to corrupt schemes, they violate the norms and principles of the rights of the child, including the “best interests of the child” factor.
The best interests of the child is a term that includes “the well-being of the child and their development in a safe and stable environment that does not harm them”. The best interests are the main factor to be considered in all situations involving children.
Experts believe that these violations occur when the purpose of adoption is to find a child for the adoptive parents, and not a family for the child.
According to the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, in 2021, 19 children were adopted in Armenia, 14 by Armenian citizens, 5 by foreigners. All children adopted by foreigners had a disability.
This figure has decreased by 10 times over the past ten years: in 2012, foreign citizens adopted 55 children from Armenian orphanages.
In general, in recent years, the number of children adopted by foreigners has significantly decreased. It turns out that the shortest way to reduce risks is not to solve systemic problems, but to reduce the total number of adoptions, especially of children with disabilities.
How cases of child laundering were revealed
M. – Until recently, he held a high position in the state apparatus. Thanks to his efforts, cases of child trafficking were uncovered. JAMnews does not reveal his name out of concern for his safety.
M. says that talk of illegal adoptions in Armenia began many years ago. At one time, the UN Special Rapporteur on the child laundering, child prostitution and pornography, Maud de Boer-Buquicchio, also noticed the problem. She discussed this issue during meetings with various officials. In the final report on Armenia, she also indicated that there are obvious risks of selling children through the adoption system. However, this did not lead to any reforms in the system.
“The investigation began after the question arose of how many children from Armenia were adopted by foreign citizens. Naturally, we began to study all available data. It turned out that the data of different government agencies differed significantly.
Of course, some of it could differ, as different structures keep statistics at different stages. But, for example, the data of the Ministry of Justice, the registry office and the judicial department simply cannot vary. From that moment it became clear that we had found a problem”, says M.
The main evidence was obtained by checking the personal files of children in the process of adoption, but still living in orphanages, and the authenticity of documents on their health status.
“It turned out that the health problems indicated in the personal files of these children are either not true or exaggerated. There were almost no cases without some forgery.
There were cases when the same child was listed as dead in one department and adopted in another. There were children in whose personal files 4 illnesses were listed, and in the section of their descriptions it was written “practically healthy”, says M.
In the process of adoption of children by foreigners, maternity hospitals, the community guardianship committee, the relevant department of the municipality, orphanages, the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, the Ministry of Justice, the Civil Registry Office, the Armenian government and the courts are involved.
According to M., it was possible to hide cases of child trafficking only because all of the above structures were involved in this process.
After the adoption process is completed, the monitoring of the situation with each child is entrusted to the Armenian consulate in the given country or specialized agencies authorized by it. In most of the cases reviewed, the monitoring reports were prepared by foreign private agencies.
“Reports were drawn up with shortcomings, or there were none at all. In fact, their presence is no longer essential – the child is already abroad. It was these agencies that played a decisive role in the process of selling children”, says M.
The data of various structures on the number of adopted children do not line up even now. The Statistical Committee reports 17, the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs reports 19.
According to the Ministry of Justice, in 2021, 12 children were adopted by foreign citizens, according to the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs – 5.
Criminals earned more than a million euros
The Investigative Committee reports that a resident of Yerevan, who worked in various Italian companies and represented their interests in Armenia, created a criminal group with the aim of selling children to foreigners. It consisted of people who worked in various fields, including government agencies. The investigative committee reports that their identities, the whole chain, the role of each of them in the mechanism of illegal adoption have been revealed.
Child laundering organizations operated in various countries in Europe and Asia. They posted information on their website, listing the “costs” for adoption in each region or country. Children who are citizens of Armenia were more expensive than others, they costed from 15,000 to 25,000 euros.
In total, 11 members of the criminal group have earned more than 1,200,000 euros in 15 years.
Fate of ‘sold’ children is unknown
M. does not know what results the investigation will lead to and what will happen to the children who have been sold. Even if it is proven that the children were laundered, there are no clear regulations on where they will live in the future.
“In all likelihood, the children will continue to live with the families that adopted them. Unless, of course, it turns out that the life of a child in this family is in danger.
In international practice, there are cases when children were returned, but under other circumstances – for example, when children were involved in forced labor and the like. Decisions in such cases are guided by the best interests of the child. Perhaps, after coming of age, they will be told the truth, and they will decide where and with whom to live, but before that, their legal guardians, in this case, adoptive parents, make decisions for them”, explains M.