The Dark Side of Giving Childless Couples Babies in China

August 2, 2014 Updated: August 4, 2014

In China there is money to be made in providing childless couples with babies through surrogate mothers, and a growing, unregulated industry has sprung up to meet the need. Recent reports in state-run media in China have exposed the excessive profits, exploitation of surrogate mothers, and sex-selective abortions that have accompanied the business of surrogacy.

Loss of a Child

50 year-old Li Xiaofeng and his wife, 47 year-old Xia Wenna, had twins—a boy and a girl—this May through a surrogate agency in Wuhan City in central China’s Hubei Province, according to the state-run Chutian Metropolis Daily in Hubei Province.

The couple had an only daughter who was drowned in an accident last February. She was in the first year of college at the time. The tragedy broke the parents’ hearts, and Mrs. Xia’s mental state suffered, the report said.

After learning about the surrogate agency in Wuhan, the couples both quit their jobs in Sichuan Province in the southwest and traveled to Wuhan last June. The whole process of getting new babies cost the couples nearly a million yuan ($162,000). Mr. Li said the expense was worth it, and he’s very happy that his wife has recovered, the report said.

Many of the clients who seek surrogate agencies for babies are like Mr. Li and Mrs. Xia.

The one-child policy was loosened in December 2013 to allow couples to have a second child. Before the policy was loosened, if a couple lost their only child, they not only faced emotional trauma, but also an old age without support from their children.

A ‘Grey Zone’

Chutian Daily spent a month of investigation with reporters visiting surrogate agencies in Wuhan, pretending to be a surrogate mother and client. The report says current prices for having a baby through surrogate agencies are from 380,000 to nearly 2 million yuan (US$61,486 to US$324,000).

Surrogate mothers are paid about 140,000 yuan (US$22,683) after successfully giving birth to a baby. The agencies also buy eggs from females at a price of 20,000 to 30,000 yuan (US$3,240 to US$4,860), the report said.

A responsible person at a surrogate agency in Wuhan indicated that there are at least 5,000 successful cases of surrogacy in China each years, with about 2,000 of those in Wuhan.

Chen Hu (alias) who recently shut down his surrogate agency in Wuhan, told a reporter that there are around 100 surrogate agencies in Wuhan, and over 30 are large scale operations with dozens of staff, over 100 surrogate mothers hired by each agency, and clients from around the country.

The surrogate agencies cooperate with medical institutions. “Agencies, hospitals, and surrogate mothers are in fact all focused on the clients’ wallets.” Chen said.

A responsible person at Hubei Health And Family Planning Commission told the daily paper that China currently doesn’t have a law to regulate surrogate agencies, thus the agencies practice in a grey zone that is difficult to monitor and control.


29 year-old Liu Min (alias) related to the daily newspaper her tragic experience of being a surrogate mother over the past three years. “What I’ve suffered can’t be compensated with money,” Mrs. Liu, shedding tears, said to a reporter.

Mrs. Liu had four miscarriages and no successful pregnancies since 2011 when she started working at a surrogate agency in Wuhan. The first three miscarriages all happened not long after pregnancies, and the last pregnancy lasted for six months.

Mrs. Liu said she was injected with the hormone progesterone continuously every day for 75 days after the fertilized egg was implanted, in order to maintain the baby.  She also had to take a number of medications such as one to supplement uterine thickness and more. “Taking medicine is like having meals,” Mrs. Liu said.

After her several miscarriages, Mrs. Liu was told by a doctor that there is very little chance she can get pregnant again, and being pregnant may be life-threatening for her.

Mrs. Liu said she had gained over 100,000 yuan ($16,200) from surrogacy even though she had miscarriages, because the surrogate agency pays periodically—surrogate mothers are paid 10,000 yuan after three months pregnancy, another 10,000 yuan after five month, another 20,000 yuan after the sixth month, and 60,000 yuan after the baby is born, the report said.

Mrs. Liu regrets deeply the damage to her health, which made her want to warn others by talking to the media about her experience.

Female Babies Aborted

Due to the one child policy, many couples do not want to gamble on whether their surrogate pregnancy will produce a boy and so request a male child from the agency.

Underground surrogate agencies take surrogate mothers to the hospitals they work with for fetal sex identification.

If a fetus is identified as female, the surrogate mother will have an induced abortion and will receive 20,000 yuan (US$3,240) in compensation, Mrs. Huang, a surrogate mother who’s awaiting the sex identification test in a couple of weeks, told the reporter.

Fetal sex identification has been illegal in China, but the abortion of girls remains a stubborn problem. The current sex ratio at birth in China is 116.9 : 100 (male: female), according to the state-run Xinhua news agency. The worldwide average is 101 : 100.