China’s one-child policy officially came to an end on January 1. The government is desperate to increase the birth rate in the face of an ageing population. Less well-known is the reversal of a plan to ban surrogacy.
Large families have become a status symbol in some circles in China. In 2011, a photo of eight toddlers went viral on social media. A wealthy couple resorted to IVF and found that all eight of their embryos were viable. So the wife had twins and two surrogate mothers had triplets. The couple hired 11 nannies to look after their offspring.
Although the government frowned on this display of contempt for its restrictive policies, there was no law to ban it entirely.
“Some members of the Standing Committee [of the People’s National Congress] argued that surrogacy cannot be totally forbidden,” said Zhang Chunsheng, head of legal affairs at the National Health and Family Planning Commission. And even if there was a law banning it, "rich people would still be able to go abroad to countries where surrogacy is allowed.”
The number of surrogate pregnancies in China is unknown, but in 2014, the New York Times estimated that it was only about 10,000 – although many couples go overseas to organise a child.
One argument for a more permissive attitude towards surrogacy is concern over rising infertility rates. Some desperate parents want the option to have their own child. A ban would only support China’s huge black market in surrogacy.
Besides, according to the China Population Association, 12.5% of women of child-bearing age were infertile in 2012, up from 3% in 2002. The reasons for this are obscure, but doctors believe that pollution, obesity, and abortion are amongst the contributing factors, along with deferred marriage and childbirth.
“The two-child policy could create greater demand from families to turn to surrogacy if they cannot have children themselves,” Joshua Freedman, research manager at consulting firm China Policy, said. “Legislators seem more concerned with dealing first with the two-child policy and pushing questions about surrogacy to a later date after further discussion.”
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