Stranded Babies, Sobbing Parents: Pandemic Splits Surrogates From Families
Muhammad Irfan 1 month ago Tue 22nd September 2020 | 09:30 AM
Beijing, Sept 22 (UrduPoint / Pakistan Point News - 22nd Sep, 2020 ) :Cherry Lin wistfully strokes a babygrow, fretting it may be too small for a son she is yet to meet -- one of hundreds of Chinese mothers estranged from babies born to commercial surrogates overseas after the coronavirus forced border closures.
The system has been tipped into chaos by the pandemic, which has seen borders closed, flights cancelled and visas pulled, creating a 'pile-up' of newborns waiting to be picked up by their biological Chinese parents.
"We don't know how long we have to wait," she concedes.
Rising incomes, high rates of infertility and the desire for older couples -- well past their reproductive age -- to have a son after China scrapped its one-child rule in 2016 has fuelled the demand for foreign surrogates.
Once the pregnancy was confirmed she shopped for baby products, and even took an infant first aid course.
But her plans unravelled as the virus swept the globe, dropping her into "a nightmare", where she receives fragments of her newborn's first weeks through photos and video clips sent by the surrogacy agency.
And there are no official figures on how many Chinese babies born to surrogates are stranded abroad.
Nearly half of the 46 babies belonged to Chinese clients, a BioTexCom spokesperson told AFP.
Authorities have since issued special permits for biological parents to claim their children despite border closures.
Quarantine requirements and infrequent flights means she is still unlikely to reach him until late November.
"I will miss the first six months of his life," Li explains, adding: "I can't get that back." Most babies born abroad do not have birth certificates since their parents are unable to travel to take the DNA tests needed to prove parentage.
Russian and Ukranian police have also started raiding the baby dens -- apartments where five or six undocumented babies are being looked after by one nanny -- amid fears of human trafficking, Russian state media reported.
"When the police find several Chinese babies without any identification papers, living in a house with a stranger it looks like you are selling babies for organ harvesting," according to Dmitriy Sitzko, China Marketing Manager for Vera Surrogacy Center in Saint Petersburg, who worked with Lin.
Lin's agency found a spot at a state-run orphanage to care for her baby for free.
- Celebrities normalise surrogacy - Nearly one in four couples of reproductive age in China suffer from infertility, according to the Global Burden of Disease study published in medical journal The Lancet in 2017.
Some studies have linked high levels of pollution to declining male fertility, while women are choosing to delay motherhood due to the high costs of living, restrictive maternity policies, and high childcare costs.
Surrogacy is sometimes chosen when fertility treatments, such as IVF, don't work for the couple or if they are unable to carry a child.
Stars such as Elton John, Cristiano Ronaldo, Nicole Kidman, and Kim Kardashian West, have said they used surrogates to expand their families, raising the profile of the practice -- but it remains controversial.
The UN has warned commercial surrogacy risked turning children into "commodities" and called for better regulation in places where it is legal.
"There is no right to have a child under international law. Children are not goods or services that the State can guarantee or provide. They are human beings with rights," Maud de Boer-Buquicchio, Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children, said in a 2018 report.
Only a handful of countries allow international surrogacy.
AFP interviews with 15 surrogacy service providers found it costs about $35,000 - $50,000 for surrogacy in Ukraine and Georgia, $73,000 in Russia and $200,000 in California, one of the few US states where it is legal.
- Black market babies - Even in Russia and Ukraine a backlash against foreign surrogacy is building with politicians and activists warning that women and children are being exploited by wealthy foreigners.
Shenzhou Zhongtai, an agency in the southern city of Gaungzhou, told AFP that it costs 600,000 yuan ($87,000) for "successful transplanting and delivery." "Add another 200,000 yuan (about $30,000) for sex selection, and another 200,000 yuan for Dragon and Phoenix twins," an agent said -- referring to a package that allowed couples to have a boy and a girl.
Army officers, communist party cadres or judges who can't travel abroad because of their sensitive jobs are the main clients for China's underground surrogacy agencies that go unpunished because of their official connections.
She says: "If I'd taken that risk, I'd be holding my baby today."