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Caucasus: Aug/Sep '11

Officials silent on funding crisis facing children’s homes.
By Hasmik Hambardzumyan

An IWPR probe into the state of children’s homes in Armenia has stirred an internet debate, with most users appalled at the neglect outlined in the report. But officials have been unresponsive on the issue.

The article, entitled Armenia's Impoverished Children's Homes, revealed that state-run facilities were so poorly resourced that they struggled to provide even basic care beyond food and clothing. It provoked a great deal of debate on social networking sites, where young Armenians expressed anger and blamed official corruption and incompetence for the funding shortfalls.

Facebook user Arsen Sultanyan called for tougher inspections of children’s homes.

“Let them find out how lists are drawn up to show 100 children [in a hope], when in reality there are only 60; how they send children home from boarding schools and quickly recall them when there are inspections; and how they economise on food, use the resources of children’s homes for their own benefit, and turn them into small businesses,” she said. “The inspection should be conducted in an unbiased manner, with no lengthy negotiations in the director’s office, no advance phone calls, and no fear of being punished by their superiors.”

A message posted on the ArmeniaToday web forum contained cutting remarks about private donors, saying, “Why do these children need nappies at all? Our oligarchs used to do without them when they grew up in villages.”

In response to the article, a user of the Open Armenia forum uploaded photos showing officials and children’s home heads attending a party in the resort town of Dilijan, and asked how they could afford to do so when the ministry of labour and social affairs apparently had no money to pay for nappies in children’s homes.

IWPR tried to contact ministry officials to comment on the allegations but deputy minister Filaret Berikyan, Lala Ghazaryan, who heads the department for children’s affairs, and ministry spokesperson Hasmik Khachatryan were unavailable.

One of the key sources for the story was Hasmik Mkrtchyan, director of the Marie Izmirlyan home in Yerevan. When IWPR checked back with her, it turned out that her superiors had taken action, but not of the kind that might have been hoped for.

“We’ve already distributed the funds allocated to the children’s home this year, so we have no hope of getting more money to buy nappies,” she said. “But I don’t think things will change, since high-level officials have called to warn me against disclosing our problems to journalists.”

Hasmik Hambardzumyan is a correspondent for the Panorama news site in Armenia. Sara Khojojan is IWPR editor in Yerevan.  

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