War in Ukraine ‘boosts black market for babies’

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The Russian invasion has disrupted Ukraine’s legal surrogacy business, allowing unscrupulous operators around the world to fill the void, a shocking new documentary reveals. Ukraine was once the epicentre of the billion-pound surrogacy business.

But award-winning journalist Mari-ana van Zeller has discovered that with demand still high, other countries have stepped in. The business is now growing in Kenya – where it is legal but unregulated – with vulnerable African women in poverty being exploited to become surrogates.

The war has also affected Ukrainian surrogate mothers who have fled to neighbouring countries like Poland where surrogacy remains illegal.

They must return to the war zone to give birth, otherwise the child will be taken into care and they will be prosecuted.

Mariana’s new series of Trafficked exposes the global black markets in body organs, guns and drugs.

In the latest episode, she follows a US couple as they travel to Ukraine to meet their baby for the first time and where the industry still remains safe and highly regulated.

She said: “It was incredibly emotional to witness something that instead of harm and death, was actually bringing so much joy and hope.”

But she explained there is a darker side to the market: “When the war broke out a lot of surrogacy mothers and babies got trapped. It was no longer really viable and safe. So people are turning to different corners of the world and what we
discovered was that markets are starting to grow in Kenya, where the industry is completely unregulated.

“Unfortunately, when there’s a black market and money to be made, there’s always bad actors willing to exploit people, in this case the surrogate mothers.” The documentary discovered a businessman who was running a legal employment agency for women seeking work in the Middle East who with others, including doctors, had started to “exploit these vulnerable women”.

She said: “On the side he realised he could make much more money by recruiting women to become surrogacy mothers.

“He would house these women months on end and not allow them to leave these safe houses he had.”

While some surrogacy services still operate in Ukraine, it has caused complications for the mothers.

Mariana said: “If for example the woman leaves and crosses into Poland where it is safe for them to live, they will have to cross back into Ukraine to give birth because in Poland surrogacy is illegal.

“So the baby is going to be taken away from them and they can be charged with child trafficking and all sorts of things.

“It’s crazy, they have to go back into a war zone to give birth.”

  • Black Market Babies, National Geographic TV, 9pm Sunday

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