Society 14:43 06/03/2020 Armenia

Children of Armenia’s boarding schools facing many problems after closure of institutions

Author Nare Gevorgyan

From January 1, 2020, the last 4 boarding schools of Armenia, including two in Gyumri, one in Byureghavan and the other in Dilijan, were closed by the government’s decision. Due to the lack of funds and debts, the "Bird House" boarding school under the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin was also shut down at the beginning of the year.

The government described the closure of boarding schools as a move to fight despair. The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs also argued that the decision was aimed at providing children with the right to live in their families, which, however, does not mean that the ministry or the government relinquishes its responsibility to these children. Simply, the form of assistance has changed.

As a result of the closure of the boarding schools 194 children returned to their biological parents, and 43 children whose return to their families were at risk were taken to the Fridtjof Nansen Orphanage in Gyumri, with the government delaying its close until June 25, 2020.

Although the government assures that the quality of the children’s life will change significantly when living in their families, the reality is entirely different.

Speaking to, Vahan Tumasyan, Chairman of the Shirak Center NGO dealing with social issues, said that some of the children who returned home from boarding schools have ended up in a critical situation.

“Many children who attend boarding schools had family-related problems. Living in boarding schools for a long time, the children grew up with the greenhouse effect: they always had everything made ready for them, failing to gain the experience of organizing their lives on then own,” he said.

Tumasyan said that Shirak Center NGO donated an apartment to one of the families the mother of which died years ago and her four children were attending a boarding school, but the children failed to organize their lives there.

“For example, we had a TV set up, it was just a matter of turning it on, but a week later, when we visited the family, we saw that they had not event turned it on. In addition, philanthropists had given the family money to cover utility payments until spring, but it turned out that the money had been spent on something else, due to which the gas supply to the house had been suspended. In addition, the children do not have a comfortable life at home now because their father has decided to bring a new wife,” the chairman said.

According to Tumasyan, before sending children back to home from boarding schools, a huge amount of work had to be done to prepare them for a new rhythm of life. “In another case, there is a child who is with his father one day and his mother the other day. In many cases children need adoption, but the issue remains up in the air. Many years later they express regret when bad things happen to those kids,” he said.

"When a child is left to the whims of fate, he or she is in a vulnerable position, and anything can happen. For this reason, all children should be monitored to find out how they behave after living in boarding schools and how they organize their daily routine. They need some support for a while before they learn to manage things on their own," he said.

Sona Martirosyan, the spokesperson for the Minister of Labor and Social Affairs, told that if a family has social and economic problems which makes it impossible to organize the child care there, the socio-economic problems of that family should be resolved and the child should return home.

“Poverty or other social issues should not separate a child from his/her family. For this reason, we have studied the problems of all families and provided some support depending on the nature of the problems in the family. For example, parents of such families have been offered jobs, some have rejected them, while others are employed now. The houses of many families have been renovated, with house rents being compensated in other cases. Children are provided with necessary items – clothes, stationery, food, but the ministry does not hand over cash to the family members,” Martirosyan said.

She assured that social workers are in constant contact with all children who have returned home.

Asked if all the children have adapted to the family lifestyle, Sona Martirosyan said that if social workers came across any problems, they would immediately report it. "There have been no such cases,” she said.
As for the fate of the 43 children housed at the Fridtjof Nansen Orphanage in Gyumri if their return home continues to be risky, Martirosyan said that in that case other functioning orphanages will take care of those children. 

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