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September 23, 2017

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Rich Chinese, expats rent wombs as surrogate mothers rake in cash

The Straits Times/Asia News Network -- Surrogacy is illegal in the country, but try telling that to the increasingly wealthy Chinese who are getting others to carry and give birth to their babies.

More than 25,000 children were born to surrogate mothers in China over the past three decades, with their births arranged by over 500 unlicensed agencies, according to some estimates.

It is a growing phenomenon, said several agencies, some of whom spoke to The Straits Times on condition of anonymity.

In particular, many Chinese want to have a baby during this auspicious Year of the Dragon. Some agencies say their business spiked by some 30 percent last year over the year before.

"Most couples want to have a Dragon baby, so surrogates have to be impregnated the year before," said an agency owner in Beijing.

A check by The Straits Times also found more than 200 online discussion groups on infertility with a total of about 35,000 members, the majority looking for surrogate mothers.

Most couples go through an agency, which acts as a middleman, to connect them with women willing to rent out their wombs.

The first of such unlicensed firms opened in 2004. It advertised online to reach infertile couples and recruit surrogate mothers.

The entire process costs about 300,000 yuan (US$47,534). The agent pockets 20,000 yuan and the surrogate mother, usually recruited from the countryside, is paid around 140,000 yuan.

The remaining amount goes to medical expenses such as hormone therapy treatment and the baby's delivery.

The surrogate mother typically offers just her womb. A fertilized embryo from a childless couple is placed in her. She is then paid in installments and gets a bigger payoff once the baby is handed over to the biological parents. This is done to ensure that she fulfils her end of the contract.

Customers have the option of caring for the surrogate mother themselves. Otherwise, she will be placed under the agency's care for 3,000 yuan a month, and live in an apartment with a nanny on standby 24 hours a day.

The growing demand is due to several factors. For one thing, many urban Chinese, like people in developed countries, are marrying later and postponing childbirth as work demands and the high costs of city living weigh couples down.

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