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Armenia's Impoverished Children's Homes

Funding levels leave homes able to provide children in care with food and clothing, and not much else.
By Hasmik Hambardzumyan

Children’s homes across Armenia are so poorly resourced that they struggle to provide even basic care, according to staff and other observers.

Armenia’s eight state-funded homes currently house 940 children, 360 of them disabled, and share a total government allocation of under 2.5 million US dollars a year.

The Marie Izmirlyan home in the capital Yerevan, for example, gets 365,000 dollars a year to feed, clothe and house the 95 children there, some of them disabled.

The home’s director Hasmik Mkrtchyan, said the money was enough to pay for food and other basic items, but only allowed the purchase of half the amount of nappies that were actually needed.

“We have children in wheelchairs and kids suffering from bedwetting who really need to have their nappies changed at least twice a day,” she said.

The home gets some private donations, such as a gift of 800 dollars from businessman Karen Vardanyan to top up the money available for children to phone relatives.

“The state provides only 30,000 drams [80 dollars] a month for phone bills, but we run up an enormous phone bill,” Mkrtchyan said. “We cannot deprive [the children] of these phone calls, since they ensure contact between child and parent.”

Nevertheless, the Marie Izmilyan care facility finds it hard to make ends meet. Mkrtchyan said the premises needed a new lighting system, a ventilation system for the basement, a new roof for one building, replacement flooring, a bus and some IT equipment.

Hayk Muradyan, head of the department responsible for monitoring children’s homes at Armenia’s labour and social affairs ministry, flatly denied that state provision was inadequate.

“I have to say that provision is now at a satisfactory level. There are problems, but we are trying to improve everything day by day and month by month,” he said.

Muradyan suggested that children in care were often better off than others.

“The funds provided by the state are sufficient to cover the costs of education, psychological treatment and food for the children,” he said. “Of course, there are some problems, because the spending [pattern] is far from ideal. But let’s not forget that across the country and particularly in villages on the border, there are children in families who – in contrast to those in homes – live in poor conditions and aren’t well fed.”

Araz Artinyan, a diaspora Armenian who has run a programme of treatment for children in orphanages since 2009, said levels of care were woefully inadequate.

“I was stunned by what I saw in children’s homes. The children just live there and get no medical assistance or education,” she said. “It turns out that they’re merely fed, and no one worries that there’s a child with a heart condition who’s been living with it for years, or a deaf child for whom nothing is done.”

Disabled children in care often attend one of a number of specialised schools. Anahit Bakhshyan, a member of parliament from the Heritage party, recently visited one of these schools in the town of Gyumri, and said she found it almost indescribable.

“I saw with my own eyes how at least two groups of disabled children were walking around without nappies. We were told that the money the state provided wasn’t intended to be used for nappies,” she said.

Bakhshyan plans to raise the living conditions of children in care in parliament in September, and will also propose the creation of a children’s ombudsman.

“Although this question, which we’ve raised more than once, has been ignored, we are going to try one more time,” she said

Hasmik Hambardzumyan is a correspondent for the Panorama news site in Armenia.. 

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