As part of our contacts with members of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), we sent this concept note.
After outlining the sexual and economic exploitation of women and the violence perpetrated by the surrogacy industry, the concept note calls for an international policy aimed at abolishing surrogacy because of its exploitation of women and its involvement in human trafficking. We also call for several risk assessments to be carried out on surrogacy, as there is a real lack of data, statistics and figures on the practice. These assessments would allow us to demonstrate the dangers of the surrogacy industry and could be used to justify international action.
Effective implementation of an international policy to abolish surrogacy in order to combat human trafficking and violence against women and children.
The need for a risk assessment of surrogacy
The aim of this note is to draw attention of the Cedaw Committee to the link between migration and surrogacy, based on the study we have conducted together with ENoMW. « Migrant women and reproductive exploitation in the surrogacy industry »
We would also like to highlight the need for studies on the impact of surrogacy in all areas affecting women’s and children’s rights.
ICASM is an international feminist coalition of forty organisation members, active in fourteen countries, which is also supported by three hundred organisations in sixty-five countries.
Migration and sexual exploitation of women in the surrogacy industry
The forms of travel imposed on surrogate mothers open a new chapter in human trafficking. The ICASM analysis identifies three distinct and new forms of trafficking :
- Migrant women exploited for their reproductive capacity (Case in Greece mentioned in the above study)
- Women displaced from their country of origin to another country to become surrogate mothers (as in the case of the Netherlands, USA, China)
For example: migrant women who come to Athens to work as maids, are recruited as surrogate mothers. Migrant women from Bulgaria are also brought to Greece, when they are young, to have their eggs harvested and when they are older to become surrogate mothers.
3) Surrogate mothers moved between different regions or countries during the surrogacy process:
- Due to lack of available technology such as access to IVF (as in Nepal and India)
- To circumvent local laws and/or facilitate parentage (as in Ukraine and Cyprus)
- For client convenience (as in Ukraine and Belgium)
- To facilitate the control and monitoring of the pregnancy (almost all countries open to surrogacy, Russia, Ukraine…)
- To sell their babies in another country (e.g. illegal adoptions and child trafficking: as in the trafficking of newborns in Russia for Chinese citizens)
For example: in North America Mexican surrogate mothers are trafficked to give birth in the United States. In Asia, Vietnamese women are moved to China for illegal surrogacy, the embryo transfer is carried out in China, the women are then returned to Vietnam for the pregnancy and are transported again to China for the delivery.
Reproductive surrogacy thrives on the economic exploitation of developing countries and lower-class women:
In most cases, the so-called « commissioning parents » are from wealthy Western countries or from wealthy elites in poor and/or developing countries. As a consequence, the women exploited in surrogacy are women from countries considered poor or from the less privileged strata of Western societies. This makes it easy for brokers to recruit them by paying a financial reward or even a promise of a reward, which is not always honoured.
Economic and social insecurity as a source of vulnerability:
All the surrogacy stakeholders: brokers, clinics, laboratories, lawyers, bankers, psychologists and clients, shamelessly exploit the vulnerability of these women to achieve their respective ends, which are, financial gain; and for the clients, a child bought like a commodity. The consent of the surrogate mother required in the contract is not a valid argument to justify surrogacy, because there can’t be a valid consent to give up one’s own human rights, as is the case in surrogacy.
Replication of violence against women
The process of surrogate motherhood involves multiple exploitations of women.
– Cross-border surrogacy, as well as domestic surrogacy is akin to the trafficking in women as defined by the Palermo protocol.
– From conception to birth, the process is fraught with hardships, trapping the women who are victims and the children born of these practices in a cycle of violence. IVF surrogacy is a recognized as a particularly dangerous procedure, as the genetic material is foreign to the surrogate mother (e.g. a risk of pre-eclampsia). To increase the chance of a successful pregnancy, several embryos are implanted into the surrogate’s uterus at the same time, which is not medically recommended. Multiple pregnancies are known to be more dangerous than single pregnancies, but twins are often requested by commissioning parents as it is cheaper than two pregnancies. And the surrender of the newborn baby to the commissioning parents often leads to psychological damage from postpartum depression which has not yet been studied.
In addition to the violence inherent to surrogacy, the precarious state of women recruited to be surrogate mothers leads to situations where they are kept together like “prisoners”. They may also be the victims of human trafficking, physically and psychologically abused and in any case seen as nothing more than baby-making machines.
Perpetuating inequality between women and men and normalizing violence against women means ensuring that the reproductive market has the necessary female “bodies” to consent to their exploitation. Surrogacy is thus an integral part of the violence against women which consists of exploiting their reproductive capacity and commercialising their oocytes. Indeed, as soon as a woman “produces” a child for a third party, outside her own her own parental plans, it should be considered as exploitation.
The Effective implementation of an international policy to abolish surrogacy in order to combat human trafficking and violence against women and children :
Simply regulating surrogacy will not prevent the industry from operating and will not reduce trafficking. This is easily seen in the practice of illegal surrogacy in countries which prohibit it.
Countries that ban surrogacy don’t prevent their citizens from resorting to reproductive tourism and the black market. Regulation makes surrogacy socially acceptable and leads public opinion to believe that it is fair to access women’s bodies as if they were commodities.
We call for urgent action to end this practice internationally.
For the well-being of all women, the global abolition of this practice must prevail.
The need for an initiative on risk assessment in surrogacy:
We call on CEDAW to support the idea of launching studies on the dangers and abuses of surrogacy. Too few studies have been done so far. There is an urgent need for a campaign on the health implication of surrogacy, the number of women who have died as a result, the number of abandoned children …., etc. These figures will help to raise awareness and clarify the dangers of the practice.
Marie Josèphe Devillers – Ana-Luana Stoicea-Deram – Berta O. Garcia
Co-presidents of the Coalition for the Abolition of Surrogate Motherhood