Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Sad Fate of Tajik Orphans

Poverty and bureaucracy frustrate efforts to find homes for orphans and abandoned children.
By Salimakhon Vahobzade

President Imomali Rahmonov recently called on wealthier citizens to adopt some of the thousands of parentless children here, but the call is likely to fall on deaf ears.


According to UNICEF figures, there are currently more than 10,500 orphaned or abandoned children in some 84 orphanages and boarding schools in Tajikistan.


However, Tajik citizens have adopted only 36 youngsters over the past five years.


Analysts believe that the president’s April 16 call is unlikely to be heeded as very few people can afford to look after a parentless child.


And, they say, many of those who have the means to do so are put off by the length of the adoption process and the corrupt practices of some of the officials who run it.


According to officials in Dushanbe, there are currently 20 families waiting to adopt, but the level of bureaucracy and bribery involved has hampered these cases for some years.


The president has acknowledged that the present adoption system is not functioning, and blames corruption for the continuing problems.


“More than a thousand Tajik citizens have been waiting for several years to adopt a child, and for their pains they have money extorted from them,” said Rahmonov.


Dushanbe resident Zamira told IWPR that she and her husband have been trying to adopt an orphaned child for some three years without success.


“The adoption bodies find thousands of reasons to refuse me, although my husband and I have a decent income, and we have our own apartment,” she said. “They’re probably waiting for us to give them a bribe.”


This is in stark contrast to the experience of foreign prospective parents, who until last year were able to adopt a Tajik child with little or no documentation to back up their claims of suitability.


Tajikistan introduced legislation in 1999 that sought to establish a formal procedure for adopting the republic’s many parentless children. However, it did not include provisions for foreign citizens - though neither did it ban overseas adoptions. This led to a grey area in the law where potential parents from abroad were not held up to the same scrutiny as Tajik applicants.


This situation continued until August 2004, when the Tajik government put a stop to it after the Supreme Court found serious mistakes in 14 out of the 18 adoption cases involving foreign adoptive parents.


Supreme Court judge Larisa Kabilova said, “The adoptive parents should present appropriate documents, as is the practice in civilised western countries. These should include certificates of the parents’ living conditions, family members, profession and income, as well as permission for the child to enter their parents’ country.”


However, this was not the case in many of the cases sent to the court for review, Kabilova said.


Before the law was changed, one Dushanbe court had allowed a four-month-old Tajik child to be adopted by an American couple who had been working the city.


On examination, it was found that the court had not been provided with the requisite certificate from a United States body detailing the prospective adoptive parents’ income, socio-economic status and medical condition. It was later found that Washington had not given permission for the Tajik child to live in the US permanently.


In another case, a judge in the northern Kairakum district court gave permission for a German family to adopt a Tajik child without the former acquiring any guarantee from the authorities in Germany that the latter would be granted permanent residence.


And in some cases the prospective adoptive parents had not even visited Tajikistan or met the child they later adopted, choosing instead to hire lawyers to represent them in court.


“In such a situation there cannot be any certainty of the child’s fate,” said Kabilova.


In 2004, a Tajik delegation comprising parliamentary deputies, a Supreme Court judge and representatives of adoption bodies visited six US states to see how adopted children from Kazakstan, China and Russia were settling in to their new homes - but were unable to trace the Tajik adoptees, as their new parents had not provided their addresses.


But some Tajik children who leave the country are able to retain contact with their former carers.


Lola Kadirova, head of Dushanbe’s Orphanage No.1, told IWPR that she is still in touch with the American family who adopted one little girl from her care some three years ago.


“The girl is active, healthy and happy, and speaks English well. It is clear that she is happy in her new family,” said Kadirova, adding that the family recently returned to the republic for a visit.


Observers say that this is a rare happy ending. The consequences of Tajikistan’s 1992-97 civil war are still being felt across the republic, and the children have often suffered the most.


Living conditions across the poverty-stricken republic are very poor, and few children receive an education as they are forced to earn money from a very tender age in order to support their families, many of which lost their breadwinner in the war.


Many youngsters beg on the streets and live rough in markets, working for scraps, while many older boys and girls become involved with drugs or fall into the sex industry.


Yet most see this life as preferable to that in orphanages or state boarding schools, both of which receive such small subsidies that they cannot afford to feed their charges. Hygiene can also be poor in such institutions, and disease is rife.


Salimakhon Vahobzade is an IWPR contributor in Dushanbe