To Oksana Zholnovych,
Minister of Social Policy of Ukraine
Copy to Ihor Klymenko
Minister of Internal affairs –
Dear Ms Oksana Zholnovych,
We have the honour to draw your attention to an issue of great importance for the safety and health of women and children. This is the practice of surrogate motherhood, which has become a large market whose profits are based on the exploitation and degradation of women’s health and the sale of children. In situations of war, women and children are even more vulnerable to violence and exploitation, and the surrogacy industry profits even more.
That’s why we take the liberty of sharing our deepest concerns with you and asking for your attention.
Our organisation, the International Coalition for the Abolition of Surrogate Motherhood (ICASM), is an alliance of fifty feminist organisations working for the human rights of women and children around the world, including the NGO Democracy Development Centre (Ukraine). Its aim is to raise awareness among national and international institutions for the universal abolition of surrogate motherhood.
In recent years, we’ve seen a tendency for governments to regulate the practice rather than abolish it. In this regard, we happen to be aware of the recent draft law No. 12.01.2022 in Ukraine, more specifically “On the Use of Reproductive Aids Technologies and Surrogate Motherhood”, which aims to regulate the practice, which has been legal since 2002. We are very concerned to see that the authorities’ concern is not to protect women and children, but to better satisfy clients and businesses.
Although the text does not intend to go into detail on the issue of surrogacy, it is an attempt to respond to the consecration of Ukraine as one of the most attractive destinations for surrogacy on the global market, proposing a shift from commercial to domestic surrogacy. Foreign agencies now have subsidiaries in Ukraine, allowing them to offer their clients services across the price spectrum. But do the lives of Ukrainian women and children have a price on the market?
With this in mind, we would like to share with you our experience in this area. In particular, some information about Ukraine is worth considering since 2019, the maternal mortality rate has skyrocketed, and the birth rate has fallen. This exponential trend seems to be in line with the development of cross-border surrogacy in Ukraine.
Surrogacy may be seen by some people as a way to bring foreign currency into the country, or for some women to get the money to feed their children, find better accommodation or pay for expensive medical treatment for their loved ones. The point is that those who benefit are the owners of the surrogacy industry. Everywhere, as in Ukraine, it creates situations of exploitation and endangers women’s health and lives. Children are taken away and sometimes, as in Ukraine, placed in the care of the state, either because they are considered ‘defective products’ or because the people who commission them have abandoned their parental plans. Surrogacy is the sale of children. This is also confirmed by the United Nations Special Rapporteur of 2019 in his 42nd article.
In any case, surrogacy is a form of exploitation of women for their reproductive capacity, involving many social actors such as brokers, lawyers, clinics, psychologists… Women who agree to become pregnant do not do so for their own parental project, but to satisfy the desire of a third party. As such, it is based on violence against women, who are inevitably subjected to pain, emotional distress, psychological changes and suffering, and sometimes death.
The surrogacy business exploits structural and long-term inequalities, such as those between rich and poor, between women and men, and between rich and developing countries. Ukraine is chosen by those involved in the surrogacy industry as a low-cost destination because of its poverty. The invasion of Donbass in 2014 and of the country in 2022 led to large population displacements and many women were encouraged to become surrogates in these circumstances.
In our experience, no regulation can change a practice that is exploitative, degrading and misogynistic in its origins. To regulate surrogacy is to give a legal basis to a system that is known to exploit women’s vulnerability. Even in countries where surrogacy is regulated, such as Greece, trafficking flourishes and spreads to neighboring countries where the industry hires women either for egg extraction or as surrogate mothers. In other words, a legal market does not encourage the replacement of degrading experiences with an ethical, safe and dignified practice. Regulation also promotes legitimisation and social acceptance. The fact that surrogacy is regulated by law gives the public the idea that recourse to surrogacy is legitimate. As a result, the practice is encouraged.
Countries that have regulated surrogacy, either in a very restrictive way or in an intra-family (wrongly described as altruistic) way, have never been able to limit the practice, as citizens can always move to more permissive countries and governments have been under great pressure to liberalise the market.
In this regard, we urge you to consider replacing the draft regulations with an explicit ban on the practice of surrogacy in your legislation. Such a measure must be accompanied by public policies to care for and improve the living conditions of women, so that they do not feel that the only solution is to go beyond the limits of disposing of their bodies.
Ana-Luana Stoicea Deram (ICASM)
Maria Dmytrieva Democracy Developpment center