After India and Thailand banned commercial surrogacy, Ukraine has taken its place as the “baby factory” of the world. But now also here the business with surrogacy is to be put a stop to: Politicians complain that this practice has too often been abused for child trafficking. A new bill is to change the situation.
from Denis Trubetskoy
These were harsh accusations presented by Ukrainian prosecutor Yuri Luzenko in mid-July 2018: child trafficking through surrogacy. The accused was the clinic for reproductive medicine BioTexCom. She is said to have hired a surrogate mother for an Italian couple. However, at the time of fertilisation, the couple was neither in Ukraine nor did they make their biological material available for the procedure. When the child was born, it was brought to Italy with the help of BioTexCom. “Because neither the father’s nor mother’s DNA of the Italian parents was found in the child, it is obviously simply a Ukrainian child,” said Luzenko. BioTexCom received 32,000 euros for its services and the alleged surrogate mother received 6,000 euros.
15 years imprisonment for the chief resident?
But this is apparently not an isolated case. The Ukrainian police have also identified more than a hundred other surrogate mothers who worked with BioTexCom. It is currently dealing with 16 other foreign customers of the clinic who have been able to take children to their home countries. Meanwhile, the Italian couple’s seven-year-old child was removed from the family and placed in a children’s home. The two parents are being prosecuted by the Italian judiciary. The chief physician of the clinic is threatened with up to 15 years imprisonment in the Ukraine. BioTexCom rejects all accusations. There is a conspiracy behind it.
Legal for six years
Commercial surrogacy has only been permitted in Ukraine since 2012 – and is increasingly used by foreign couples. In the past, they mainly turned to India and Thailand for this purpose, partly because such services were very cheap in these countries. But the two countries have now banned commercial surrogacy for foreigners, which has led to Ukraine suddenly becoming one of the world’s largest centres for reproductive medicine.
The first scandal was not long in coming: as early as 2013, a hospital in Kharkiv was accused of placing children abroad without complying with the applicable laws. The BioTexCom case is also causing a lot of indignation in the Ukrainian public. Some media even call the clinic a “haven of evil”.
Surrogate mothers get up to 15.000 Euro
It is mostly sheer misery that drives women to become surrogate mothers. In the Ukraine, they mostly come from villages and small towns in the province, are often single mothers and can only bring their own families through with difficulty.
So is 29-year-old Tetjana. She comes from a village in the East Ukrainian district of Kharkiv, but is currently in Kiev, where she is carrying a foreign child. She told her story to BBC Ukraine, which is not atypical: “I have three children of my own and I don’t want them to worry about money when they grow up. I actually live with my mother, but she doesn’t know what I’m really doing in Kiev. She thinks I would just earn money here.” Tetjana says she already feels the child moving in her stomach: “Mentally it’s extremely difficult, but I do it for my family”.
Ukrainian surrogate mothers receive between 4,000 and 15,000 euros for carrying children for foreign couples. An enormous incentive with an average gross wage of 260 euros per month. Although there are no official statistics on the number of borrowed pregnancies, experts estimate that there are about 500 cases per year. Ukraine also seems attractive for foreign couples because the country has halfway solid medical care and comparatively low prices.
Ukrainians are not incubators
But soon the situation could change radically. Alarmed by cases such as those at the BioTexCom clinic, a bill was submitted to the Ukrainian parliament in mid-July 2018. This bill stipulates that reproductive technologies such as surrogacy are only permitted to Ukrainians and foreigners who live permanently in the country. “It is a catastrophe that surrogacy is being used as a cover for child trafficking. Nor can Ukrainian women be used by foreigners as incubators and children be born with an unclear legal status,” says Pawlo Ungurjan, one of the authors of the new bill. And because the project is supported by members of various parties in the governing coalition, it is likely that the law will come through.
According to Ukrainian legislation, parents who use a surrogate mother must be heterosexual and prove that they cannot have children themselves. The surrogate mother must be between 19 and 36 years old and have at least one child of her own. She must also be physically and mentally healthy. After the birth of the child, it takes several months until all the papers are ready and the child can go abroad to its parents. It is essential that the DNA of at least one of the two parents is determined.