Exclusive: Rise in number of couples seeking 'wombs for hire' abroad

Increase in British couples turning to poor foreign surrogate mothers to have their babies 

Wealthy British couples who cannot have children are increasingly seeking "wombs for hire" from women overseas, according to figures obtained by The Independent.

The number of couples formally registering children born to foreign surrogates has nearly trebled in five years, raising concerns that poor women in developing countries are being exploited by rich Westerners.

"Parental orders" granted following surrogacy – to transfer the child from the surrogate mother to the commissioning parents – have risen from 47 in 2007 to 133 in 2011.

While the figures are still relatively small, experts say they understate the true scale of the trade which is driven by agencies operating in countries such as India, drawn by a lack of red tape and the absence of regulation.

There are parallels with the trade in inter-country adoption 20 years ago, when hundreds of children from impoverished families in eastern Europe and the developing world were "sold" to wealthy foreigners, with few checks on their suitability, they claim.

Commercial surrogacy is permitted in the US and in many other countries including India, where it was legalised in 2002.

But it is banned in Britain and only expenses may be paid – making it difficult for UK couples where neither partner is able to bear children to find women prepared to volunteer for the role.

In 2010 the law was changed to allow gay and lesbian couples and unmarried heterosexual couples to use surrogates for the first time, boosting demand further.

Events such as the Alternative Families Show, which acts as a showcase for surrogacy agencies overseas, regularly draw large crowds. The impact can be seen in the increasing numbers of wealthy British couples who are going abroad where there are fewer restrictions and a surrogate womb can be rented from £10,000 to £20,000. Some do so after trying and failing to have a baby by in-vitro fertilisation, directed by doctors who have been treating them.

"We have clinicians in this country who have links with overseas clinics. That was stopped with international adoption years ago. I don't think the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority has been strong enough on this," said Marilyn Crawshaw, senior lecturer in the University of York's department of social policy, who published the figures on parental orders in the Journal of Social Welfare and Family Law.

"There is concern about child trafficking. The World Health Organisation held a meeting on this. One report described a surrogacy ring in Thailand in 2011 in which 13 Vietnamese women, seven of them pregnant, had been trafficked for the purpose of acting as surrogates. Other reports have highlighted concerns about the exploitation of Indian surrogates."

Ms Crawshaw said evidence suggested that the number of children born in India to commissioning parents from the UK was "well in excess" of the cases known to official sources, making monitoring very difficult.

"US social workers have warned that the decline in inter-country adoption may be leading to its replacement by global surrogacy as the preferred route for those wanting to build their family with a 'healthy' infant but with no less concerns among professionals as to associated ethical dilemmas and human rights concerns," she said.

Natalie Gamble, a lawyer specialising in surrogacy cases, added: "We have got this phenomenon where people can go overseas and do deals with commercial agencies and then come back and ask for a parental order.

"The law of our land says you cannot buy and sell babies. But the judges end up granting the parental order, with just a rap on the knuckles for the parents, on the grounds that the welfare of the child is paramount.

"When people went overseas to adopt, safeguards were put in place to stop the buying and selling of children. Are we going to have the same problems again with overseas surrogacy?"

Case study: 'It was awkward when the mother had to hand over our twins'

We both found it very hard to keep it together. It was a very emotional time. We could never have imagined it a couple of years ago."

Stephen Hill and his partner Johnathon Busher first held their twin girls in their arms less than 12 hours after their birth in a Delhi hospital last April.

The gay couple, from the West Midlands, had been together for 18 years when they decided they wanted a family.

In 2011, they travelled to India and agreed a contract with a clinic in Delhi where Mr Hill's sperm was used to fertilise an egg from a donor they had selected, and the resulting embryo was implanted in a surrogate mother.

When the twins were born there was an "awkward moment" before the surrogate mother agreed to hand them over, as her husband had been telling medical staff the infants were his own.

"She was reminded that it was a deal and she was fine. She was a little bit too attached and she needed to be reminded," Mr Busher said. "We produced the contract and we were able to take them out of the hospital. We were so happy our feet didn't touch the ground."

Surrogacy laws: Britain and India

Commercial surrogacy

UK – illegal

India – legal

Advertising

UK – not permitted

India – permitted

Enforceable agreement

UK – no

India – yes

Payment to surrogates

UK – expenses only

India – $5,000 to $7,000

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
News
The data shows that the number of “unlawfully” large infant classes has doubled in the last 12 months alone
i100Mike Stuchbery, a teacher in Great Yarmouth, said he received abuse
Arts and Entertainment
The starship in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
filmsThe first glimpse of JJ Abrams' new film has been released online
Sport
Rio Ferdinand returns for QPR
sportRio Ferdinand returns from his three-game suspension today
News
The Speaker of the House will takes his turn as guest editor of the Today programme
arts + ents
News
people

Watch the spoof Thanksgiving segment filmed for Live!
Sport
Billy Twelvetrees will start for England against Australia tomorrow with Owen Farrell dropping to the bench
rugbyEngland need a victory against Australia today
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of The Guest Cat – expect to see it everywhere
books
Sport
Tyson Fury poses outside the Imperial War Museum in south London ahead of his fight against Dereck Chisora
All British heavyweight clash gets underway on Saturday night
News
i100 Charity collates series of videos that show acts of kindness to animals
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Opilio Recruitment: QA Automation Engineer

    £30k - 38k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: An award-winning consume...

    Opilio Recruitment: UX & Design Specialist

    £40k - 45k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

    Opilio Recruitment: Publishing Application Support Analyst

    £30k - 35k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We’re currently re...

    Opilio Recruitment: Digital Marketing Manager

    £35k - 45k per year + benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

    Christmas Appeal

    Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
    Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

    Is it always right to try to prolong life?

    Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

    What does it take for women to get to the top?

    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
    Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

    Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

    Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
    French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

    French chefs campaign against bullying

    A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

    Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
    Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

    Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

    Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
    Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

    Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

    Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
    Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

    Paul Scholes column

    I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
    Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game