- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
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 August 29, 2003 

Family Matters: Changes proposed for Law on Adoption and fake pregnancy

Laws on Adoption could be crucial to children such as these at Zatig Orphanage.

A paragraph in Armenia's Law on Adoption allows an adopting mother to "imitate" pregnancy.

According to the law, a woman who has been approved to adopt has the right to mimic a pregnancy - a right afforded in deference to cultural attitudes surrounding a family's attempts to have children.

In Armenia, where even domestic life is rarely private, shared instead by neighbors and relatives, women are often reluctant to reveal that they are adopting. In a society where a woman's worth is sometimes defined by her child-bearing ability, women do not wish to be known as "infertile".

Understanding this cultural characteristic, the Law on Adoption has stipulated that a woman may imitate a pregnancy.

(The clause in the law is intended to make it possible for a woman to get a birth certificate for a newborn, stating that she has delivered a child.)

Some women leave the country for several months and when they come back go straight to the hospital or orphanage to take a child. Others put pillows on their abdomen to make it correspond to pregnancy. Some even over-eat to gain weight.

But the controversial portion of the law may be about to change, as it will be under review this fall by the Government.

The Ministry of Social Security says the portion of the law allowing imitation pregnancy is senseless.

"The pregnancy imitation makes women suffer," says Karine Hakobyan, Deputy Minister.

"Those women who can not give birth suffer the inferiority complex, and some of them prefer to endure a sham pregnancy. But pregnancy imitation makes them suffer even more, because they have to pretend each minute they are pregnant. And after all that they risk mental problems," Hakobyan says.

Many women who adopt children share this opinion.

Three years ago Zara Avagyan adopted a six-month old boy from Zatik orphanage. She was faced with whether to fake a pregnancy or announce that she was going to adopt a son. After long hesitation, she chose the latter.

"I thought that if I chose to imitate pregnancy I would first of all deceive myself," Avagyan says. "Besides I don't believe that in Armenia you can hide your private life. I haven't decided yet if I would tell my boy that he is adopted. It is my business but I am afraid that someone might tell him before I will."

In addition to abolition of the "pregnancy imitation" clause, the working group of the Social Ministry will also advocate abolishing third-party participation in adoptions on behalf of prospective parents living abroad.

"Almost all the foreigners who wish to adopt a child in Armenia don't come here, but send a middleman," Hakobyan says. "But I think adoption is something which should not be done through a third person. We want parents to be in charge of a child from the very first minute they take him. If parents want to save travel expenses or do not have time to come to Armenia to see children wishing to be adopted, we can not trust them."

Hakobyan says that under proposed changes a government body supervising the process of adoption will have more authority to oversee adoptions and receive regular information about the state of the adopted children.

"For the past couple of years the number of foreigners who wish to have a child from Armenia has increased," she says. "In Armenia we can follow the information about adopted children, but we lose ties when children leave Armenia."

The number of foreign families making adoptions in Armenia is increasing. In 2001, 163 children were adopted - 120 by local families and 43 by foreigners. In 2002, 178 were adopted - 116 by locals and 62 by foreigners. And in the first half of this year, 80 children were adopted - 43 by locals and 37 by foreigners.

It is a wide spread opinion in Armenia that the process of adoption by foreigners involves thousands of dollars paid in bribes.

Hakobyan says that if the suggested amendments are approved by the Government there will be no loophole for corruption of officials administering the adoption process.

Ashot Mnatsakanyan, the Director of Zatik orphanage, says that neither he nor the directors of other orphanages are authorized to participate in adoption procedures.

"People who work in the orphanages know each child and can help parents to take a child by describing him. It is not right that we can not help our children to find a good home. And the accusation of bribery in orphanages is very harmful," Mnatsakanyan says.

Avagyan says that adopting her son from Zatik cost about $130, spent mostly on paperwork.

Deputy Minister Hakobyan says a clause allowing fake pregnancy is foolish.

"First I gave the application to the City Council. Then I collected the information about the family budget and the health reference guarantying that I was healthy and able to take care of a child," she explains. "In about a month the people from the Council came to my home to see the living conditions."

As a single woman living on a musician's salary of 20,000 drams (about $34) a month, Avagyan was not financially qualified for adopting. But her sister, living in the United States, wrote a letter confirming that she would help support the child by sending $300 each month.

The whole procedure of adopting her son took about six months, and Avagyan says she was satisfied with how the process worked.

But when it came time to take a child, she was told that there was only one child she could adopt.

"When I saw the boy he was six months old, but looked as if he were three months," she recalls. "He was small, thin and pale and I thought maybe he had a serious health problem. Then he looked at me with his big brown eyes, and in the following second I realized that if I have to take a child it is him."

She named the boy Hakob and says that he is smart and healthy now. And she hopes that by the time Hakob learns the truth of his history, they will be a real family.



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