CARELESS: CHILD ABUSE, VIOLENCE STILL COMMON IN ORPHANAGES, BOARDING SCHOOLS IN ARMENIA
By GAYANE ABRAHAMYAN
HUMAN RIGHTS | 16.01.13 | 12:30
9 -year-old Tigran Papikyan, who escaped from Yerevan Childcare and
Protection Boarding Institution N1 in December 2012
A nine-year-old boy’s escape from a boarding school at the end of
last year that he later explained as the only means of getting rid of
regular beating again raised the issue of violence and indifference
that exist in Armenian child care centers and orphanages.
The boy, Tigran Papikyan, attending Yerevan Childcare and Protection
Boarding Institution N1, resorted to escape for the second time as
a desperate measure.
Child protection officer at the Armenian Ombudsman’s Office Aida
Muradyan quotes Tigran as saying that he had been beaten on a regular
basis by “Miss Lilit, who hit him on the head with a karate stick.”
While the internal investigation is on to find out whether there
were actually instances of beating or not, experts continue to argue
and confirm with evidence that violence still exists even in normal
general schools. Children at orphanages are six times as likely to
become victims of violence as their peers in families,” says former
deputy representative of UNICEF in Armenia Christina Roccella.
Many do not exclude that it is violence that had driven 15-year-old
Zina Simonyan to commit suicide at Nubarashen Boarding School No. 11
last July. The teenager fell to death from an upper-floor bathroom
window (which should have been barred).
At the same boarding in the Yerevan suburb of Nubarashen for years
a teacher sexually harassed children. Levon Avagyan stood before
court only in 2010 under pressure from society alerted to the abuse
by an activist.
1989-90 school graduates also told stories of sexual violence used
against them by the staff, in particular a group rape case that
the principal, Meruzhan Yengibaryan, was aware of and told them to
“keep their mouth shut”. But those publications did not have any
legal consequences; the principal simply resigned.
Ten orphanages and 28 other child care facilities (daycare centers,
special boarding schools) now have a total of 4,900 children, and 80
percent of them have parents or families. Most of them attend these
establishments because of facing social problems, or are ‘social
orphans’, as they are often called.
The 2010-11 report of the Public Monitoring Group on the situation
in the special education institutions of the Ministry of Education
and Science published last month also revealed different types of
violence used in 13 special schools that were monitored.
The Monitoring Group has identified not only “specific instances of
violence by the staff”, but also “informal punishment mechanisms”
used against children through other ‘privileged’ children by creating
“a hierarchical system and an atmosphere of fear between seniors and
juniors, the weak and the strong.”
“In reality the situation is terrible. In nearly all institutions all
children’s rights are being violated, but the most terrible is the
total indifference that exists,” Armine Gmyur-Karapetyan, a member
of the Monitoring Group, told ArmeniaNow.
David Amiryan, a deputy projects director at the Open Society
Foundations-Armenia (this organization has initiated and assisted the
establishment of the observation group), stresses that the bigger
problem is the level of perception of violence by executives and
educators and their failure to take preventive measures.
“It is not necessary for there to be a case of violence for them to
react. International experts point out that any evidence of a possible
case of violence should be regarded as well,” he told ArmeniaNow.
“For example, a warehouse was found at one of the boarding schools
and the door to it was opened only after a long argument. It had some
mattresses and there was the word ‘bread’, written on the wall. So far
we have no evidence of violence in this connection, but the presence
of such a facility is alarming as it may be a place for punishment,”
adds Amiryan, noting with regret that such issues could become a
deterrent, but they are neglected.
Experts more and more tend to believe that these institutions are
impossible to reform.
“Experience of many years and monitoring activities suggest that the
only correct way is bringing children out of these institutions. It is
impossible to change the educators by means of several trainings. If
the state does want to help these children, it should help their
families,” says Gmyur-Karapetyan.
Still in 2006 the United Nations launched a program aimed at reducing
the number of children at orphanages under which the state should
develop effective mechanisms for returning children to families. But
experts fear that “orphanages have become a business” and that they
are not interested in the elimination of such institutions.
Former lawmaker, member of the opposition Heritage Party Anahit
Bakhshyan believes that the problem can be solved only after corruption
“If the number of children is reduced at orphanages, it will mean that
$4 million allocated for them under the state budget annually would
go to their biological or foster families, but as long as there are
people with certain interests in that circle, there will be no progress
made in this process. This is only a source of corruption, it is not
clear what percentage of the money allocated by the state is actually
spent on the child,” Bakhshyan, a veteran educator, told ArmeniaNow.
Last October, an audit conducted by the State Commission for the
Protection of Economic Competition affirmed this opinion as it revealed
that the squander of state funds in orphanages has acquired “quite
large sizes” – certain items are purchased at prices 200 percent
higher than those existing on the market and “a substantial part of
the money has not served its purpose.”
According to a UNICEF study, an orphanage or another childcare
institution annually spends nearly $4,000 per child, while a foster
family gets the funding of about $2,500 on account of each child.
Since 2008 only 21 families have provided care to orphans in Armenia,
and their number does not increase because of insufficient financing.
“Instead of the maintenance of enormous orphanage buildings, that money
should be directed to the elimination of poverty in families, which is
the main reason for children appearing in such institutions,” UNICEF
Children’s Rights Protection Officer Eduard Israyelyan told ArmeniaNow.
According to the data reported by Israyelyan, Georgia has made serious
progress in this area, as within a few years there 4,700 of 5,000
children were either returned to their biological families or placed
in care of foster families. In the absence of such possibilities
small group homes have been set up; as a result, annually the state
saves approximately $3.5 million, he added.
Deputy Minister of Labor and Social Welfare Filaret Berikyan disagrees,
saying that Armenia, too, has made “serious progress” in this regard.
But data from the National Statistical Service depict a different
situation: whereas in 2009 there were a total of 1,243 children in
orphanages, then in 2011 that number was 1,115. In 2011, only 56
children were returned to families from orphanages, while 267 were
enrolled in these facilities.