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Georgia L Gilholy is a reporter for politics.co.uk but writes in a personal capacity.

All eyes remain on Ukraine as the horrors of the Russian invasion continue to unfold. The crisis has also laid bare another tragedy at the heart of Ukrainian life: its burgeoning surrogacy industry.

Commercial surrogacy is illegal in most western countries, often leading those in search of it to flock to impoverished women in India and Thailand to carry and birth children at their request.

Since both these countries cracked down on the “trade” following a series of high-profile scandals, commercial surrogacy has surged in Ukraine over the past seven years as European “customers” have sought ought locations closer to home.

Ukrainian women are paid, on average, a paltry fee of £10,000 to £15,000 for the life changing process of pregnancy, at the conclusion of which the child is usually taken away immediately. While the purchasing power of such a fee is much higher in Ukraine than in the UK, it is not enough to live off forever, amounting to just over enough to purchase a one bedroom flat in the average Ukrainian city centre.

However much we excuse these “exchanges” as the informed decisions of adults, they are predatory by definition and the UK remains complicit in them so long as it permits its citizens to participate in them.

Media coverage of Ukraine’s surrogacy “industry” since Russia began amassing troops on its borders, including pieces in the Irish Times, the BBC, and the Times, have disturbingly prioritised the wants of the overseas couples paying for surrogate mothers, or focusing on the economic impact of an interruption to the “trade”, whilst asking few or zero questions about the mothers themselves.

While articles display smiling couples who have managed to ensure a child’s safe transport from the conflict, somewhere far outside the frame, is a woman left without a child she has carried for nine months, the implications of which we cannot begin to comprehend.

The brutal reality is that any surrogacy agreement involves a succession of planned abandonments that risk trauma to the birth mother and a child that will one day have to face the fact their coming into the world involved the “renting” of an exploited woman’s organs.

Indeed, many surrogate mothers have clearly been left behind in the midst of war and their newborn babies transported to their overseas parents. In other still-pregnant women report feeling pressured by their  foreign “commissioners” to flee Ukraine alone, even if they have other children or family members to consider.

Once again, commercial surrogacy has been exposed for what it is: the exploitation of economically deprived women at the behest of wealthy overseas couples.

This is not how other contracted workers would be mistreated under international norms; but no matter what we would like to believe, surrogacy is not simply another type of ‘work’.

While many liberals, on both left and right, are quick to suggest that surrogacy is an act of charity (on both sides of the exchange) this is not the case. Couples who pay women in Ukraine or elsewhere to carry a pregnancy are unfairly placing the desires of adults above the needs of children.

Across the world, there are millions of children in need of adoption or foster care. In Ukraine alone, there are 70,000-110,000 orphans, and the government’s ability to ensure their safety was already scant prior to this year’s conflict. Covid also resulted in many impoverished surrogacy mothers being left to care for the babies they had been paid to carry as travel restrictions delayed their transport to the “commissioning” parents.

While adoption practices, too, are far from immune to exploitation, surely this is a better route towards parenthood than seeking to treat the inside of a woman’s body as if it were a vending machine, and living, breathing children as consumer goods?

Naturally, inter-jurisdictional surrogacy risks legal and moral chaos when questions of who can be considered a child’s ‘true’ parents arises. While in Ukraine, laws geared toward promoting commercial surrogacy ensure that the “commissioning” parents are the child’s legal parents following birth, in the UK surrogate mothers are automatically considered the child’s parent.

In 2019, ABC reported on a three-year-old girl called Bridget, living in Kiev’s Sonechko Children’s Home. Carried by a surrogate mother from war-torn Donetsk, Bridget had been abandoned by her biological American parents after her premature birth left her with several physical and intellectual disabilities. According to ABC, they even demanded she be removed from life support while struggling with postpartum health issues. The nurse who cares for Bridget has also attempted to contact her parents more recently but to no avail.

This is the direct result of treating children like material things that can be bought, sold, and viewed as defective if they do not fit the expectations laid out in a contract.

The proliferation of commercial surrogacy suggests many of us have become so disconnected from biological realities that we are willing to believe that it is possible to ‘outsource’ the most intimate biological processes, just as we might hire an accountant to do our paperwork, or relocate a manufacturing plant to a newly industrialising economy.

If the British government is happy to keep commercial surrogacy illegal here, why does it think it is okay for British citizens to exploit foreign women?

Are we okay with the complications and trauma inherent in the commercial surrogacy ‘contract’ to rumble, as long as it does so in a distant country we view as somehow beneath our own in the global hierarchy? Why are we allowing corporations to profit both off the desperation of emotional parents struggling with infertility as well as women in poverty?

As surrogacy rates increase, the Law Commission of England Wales are reviewing its related laws. But while couples who have fertility issues should receive our utmost sympathy, a wish to raise and care for children should never be an excuse to commoditize overwhelmingly vulnerable women and degrade the reality of the mother-child bond.

This has already happened for too long in Ukraine. Its people deserve real stability and economic growth, not to be treated like objects.