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Ukraine Surrogacy Boom Not Risk-Free

Several facilities have been opening in Ukraine to meet the burgeoning demand for surrogacy and other medical services.
Several facilities have been opening in Ukraine to meet the burgeoning demand for surrogacy and other medical services.
By Claire Bigg and Courtney Brooks
Low tariffs and relatively lenient legislation are making Ukraine an increasingly popular destination for Western couples seeking to have children through surrogacy.

But cases of foreigners locked in legal limbo while trying to get their babies out of the country also abound -- leading couples to resort to increasingly desperate measures.

One French couple, for example, recently landed themselves in legal hot water after attempting to smuggle twin daughters, born to a surrogate mother, out of Ukraine.

The pair was driven to the desperate measure after the French embassy in Kyiv refused to grant the newborns citizenship and travel documents.

Patrice Le Roch, the girls' father, says Ukrainian border guards caught him and his father red-handed as they tried to cross into Hungary with the babies hidden at the back of their van.

"We had hidden the children under a seat, but they immediately spotted them," he said. "They suspected child trafficking. But the children were never drugged, they are in very good health. We hid them just before crossing the border."

A Ukrainian court last month fined Le Roch and his father almost $2,000 each for the smuggling attempt. Patrice Le Roch and his wife Aurelia are now stranded in Ukraine, waiting for French authorities to rule on their daughters' status.

No Comprehensive International Legislation

The Le Rochs' case is not an isolated incident. Ukraine has emerged in recent years as a popular destination for couples seeking to have children through a surrogate mother.

But as Western men and women flock to the former Soviet country in search of cheap and speedy surrogacy procedures, incidences of couples stuck in limbo in Ukraine, unable to return home with their children, are also on the rise.

With surrogacy a relatively new phenomenon, there is no comprehensive international legislation on the matter.

While Ukraine recognizes the couples who hire surrogates as the only lawful parents, France, for instance, bans surrogacy altogether.

The website of the French embassy in Kyiv strongly warns its citizens against the practice, saying those who flout the ban expose themselves to "serious judicial and administrative problems" including possible criminal sanction.

The number of surrogacy births in Ukraine could rise by as much as 40 percent this year.

The legal ambiguity has resulted in a number of highly publicized cases in which foreigners faced massive legal hurdles in trying to take their surrogate-born babies out of Ukraine.

In February, for example, a gay Belgian couple was reunited with its son after a two-year battle to bring him back to Belgium.

Like Le Roch, they had unsuccessfully attempted to smuggle the child out of the country.

Several Large Clinics

Serhiy Antonov is the head of Medical Law Center, a Kyiv-based company providing legal assistance to people interested in surrogacy and other medical services.

According to him, officially there were roughly 120 successful surrogate pregnancies in Ukraine last year, many of them resulting in multiple births.

He estimates that the real figure, however, is about 30 percent higher since private surrogacy agencies are not required to report their data to authorities.

Antonov says the number of surrogacy births has been increasing by a staggering 20 percent a year, and could rise by up to 40 percent this year due to the opening of several large clinics.

"Surrogacy is no longer taboo," he says. "Until recently, it was almost never discussed in Ukraine and people therefore did not think of surrogacy. Now, it is actively discussed in society and medical technology is evolving. This is why these [surrogacy] programs are increasingly popular. Many people who once wanted to adopt now want to try having children that are genetically linked to them."

The comparatively small price tag is also a major attraction for couples desperate to have a baby of their own. Among the few countries that offer commercial surrogacy, Ukraine is one of the cheapest, along with India.

Unbridled Surrogacy

Having a child through a surrogate in Ukraine costs between $30,000 and $45,000 for foreign parents -- slightly less for Ukrainians -- with $10,000 to $15,000 going to the surrogate mother.

In the United States, where surrogacy is authorized in several states, prospective parents can expect to pay between $80,000 and $120,000.

But Ukraine's unbridled surrogacy boom means the procedure is not without risks, both for parents and surrogates.

"People trying to save costs find surrogates or sterile couples through the Internet," says Lyudmila Smakhina, who heads a Ukrainian agency that matches would-be parents with women willing to carry their children.

"If you are going through an illegal company or if you are trying to find people on the Internet, you cannot be sure about anything. That's why problems, for example the surrogate mother not receiving any payment, can happen."

Officially, agencies are required to contact foreign embassies and resolve all legal issues before the surrogacy procedures can go ahead -- something Le Roch says the agency he hired failed to do.

A Grueling Wait

"The contract stipulated [that the agency would take care of] the physical program as well as the entire administrative program," he says, adding that agency was supposed to register the children with Ukrainian authorities and provide all the necessary documents for their transcription to France's registrar, but that it failed to "honor its commitments."

The French Embassy in Kyiv declined to comment on the case.

Although Ukrainian authorities initially took the babies away, the family has since been reunited and is staying in a Kyiv flat.

As they doubt that France will ever recognize their parental rights, Le Roch and his wife have launched a last-ditch appeal to all countries in the Schengen zone to grant their daughters citizenship.

Having already been stranded in Ukraine for four months, they are now bracing themselves for a grueling wait.

"It will be a long period that somewhat spoils the pleasure of being a dad, the magic of having children," says Patrice.

Claire Bigg

Claire Bigg covers Russia, Ukraine, and the post-Soviet world, with a focus on human rights, civil society, and social issues. Send story tips to BiggC@rferl.org​


 

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Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Christine from: USA
June 05, 2011 18:46
If people want to use Ukraine to have children, why not adopt one of the hundreds of orphans that are filling their orphanages and institutions? They need to be rescued. Why make more children in a country where so many children are in need of loving families?
In Response

by: notwonderwoman from: USA
June 19, 2011 16:09
Gay people can not adopt internationally with out lying. One has to say one is single and straight and then once the child is home "re-adopt" in the US with your partner named as co parent. This has happened for years but it feels bad. Jews have had to do the same (pretend to be christians) to adopt from probably more than half to domestic and foreign agencies. Recently I tried to place an unwanted pregnancy with "lifetime adoptions" in the US and was told that they only had christian parents available. Likewise , the couple I settled on had tried to adopt from them and had been told that they did not take Lesbian s or Jews for waiting families. The adoption system is critically broken and it is MUCH cheaper to contract for a custom made baby.

by: Jan from: Poland
June 06, 2011 06:09
The article misses the real problem with the "wild east" in Ukrainian surrogacy --- cases where rich Westerners come and pay for a child that has no biological material from either of the Western parents. That seems to have been the issue in the recent French cases. Several of the "clinics" the Ukraine that deal with surrogacy have reportedly been ready to provide false documentation showing that genetic material was used from one of the parents.

by: Jack from: US
June 06, 2011 19:23
The Ukraine is very poor country. According to CIA Worldfact book the GDP per capita on the Ukraine is about $5k/year which is on par with african countries. The Ukraine enjoys dubious honor of being among the most poor and corrupt countries on the continent alongside Albania and Moldova. So is it suprising that Ukrainian women try to sell anything they can to feed themselves? Ukranian prostitutes swam Europe - you can see them on every corner in Italy. Most of them try to get more money by pretending they are Russian, but it is easy to tell Ukrainian from Russian. Ukrainians are typically more dark-skinned and dark-haired, especially women. If they cannot sell their bodies, they sell their wombs. What a pitiful country - but how glamorous their orange revolution was! where are all those western-leaning democrats who got their country into such a shape. Even Belarus with its Soviet-style dictator has GDP per capita more than 2 times bigger than Ukraine.

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