Poor villagers in central China are making more than 100,000 yuan (US$15,000) by acting as surrogate mothers, a Chinese news site has reported.
In some areas, most women of child bearing age had been hiring out their wombs, even though the practice was illegal, Thepaper.cn reported on Saturday.
The news portal’s investigation highlighted the case of a village in Hubei province, where more than 100 women were bearing the fertilised eggs of couples they had never met.
Many of the women involved were related by birth or by marriage.
“Some were introduced into the business by their mother-in-laws,” a villager told the Shanghai-based website.
“Giving birth to a child can bring in more than a hundred thousand yuan. The mother and daughter in-laws never fought each other again. Money introduced harmony to the family,” another villager was quoted as saying.
Although IVF treatment is legal, surrogacy, as well as the trade in sperm, eggs and human embryos, is outlawed by the Chinese government.
However, there is a demand for the service from people who are physically unable to give birth or for whom it is too risky.
China has more than 45 million infertile people, or 15 per cent of the entire population of reproductive age, according to the National Health and Family Planning Commission.
The lifting of the one-child policy has also boosted demand for surrogacy as older couples have sought to have a second child.
This has led to a black market where shadowy agents, often operating in the guise of health consultants, charging more than 800,000 yuan for the birth of a healthy boy.
Many agents operated in southern and southwestern China cities such as Wuhan, Chongqing, Chengdu and Guangzhou, the report said.
The surrogate mothers get a small cut of the money – usually between 100,000 and 200,000 yuan, but the women Thepaper.cn spoke to said they were satisfied with what they made.
“We come from a poor mountainous area. It is very poor. It will take us way more than a decade to save 100,000 yuan,” a surrogate mother was quoted as saying.
After the confirming the pregnancy, the agent pays the woman 2,000 yuan a month. After three months, this increases to 10,000 yuan per month.
From the fifth month, the monthly fee doubles to 20,000 until delivery.
“I earn only 4,000 yuan working at a factory for more than a dozen hours a day,” another surrogate mother was quoted as saying.
There was no indication as to whether the authorities would take action after the report.
A surrogate agent in Hubei, told Thepaper that the women in the business came mostly from poor families. Most of them have previously given birth to their own children.
SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST