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Chinese parents hiring surrogate moms in Japan through underground brokerage

Children born through an underground surrogacy business and living in a child care center in the Kanto region are seen being taken outside by their caretaker in March 2016. (Mainichi)

Seventy-four wealthy Chinese couples struggling with infertility have had children using surrogates in Japan introduced by a broker, it has been learned.

    Each couple paid 15 million yen for the process, which is being termed an "underground surrogacy business" between China -- where infertility clinics remain scarce -- and Japan, which has few surrogacy regulations.

    While a private clinic in Nagano Prefecture has been known to perform surrogacy procedures between Japanese mother/daughter and sister pairs, the Chinese couples are the first confirmed cases of the procedures being carried out as a business involving a broker.

    On the third floor of a multi-tenant building in the Kabuki-cho entertainment district of Tokyo Shinjuku's Ward is a room that was once a small bar, but is now home to well-used infertility equipment including a microscope and a monitor. These devices are used to transfer fertilized eggs from Chinese couples to women acting as their surrogates.

    Late on the night of Feb. 11, during the Chinese New Year holiday, a 45-year-old client from Beijing came to the office with an interpreter. She was introduced to the underground business through a high-level official in the Chinese Communist Party related to her husband, who is the vice-president of a state-owned food company. She already has a son, she said, but badly wants a daughter.

    The client, dressed elegantly and expensively, rushed over to the couch where the young woman who would be her surrogate was sitting.

    "I'm so sorry for selfishly asking you to do this," the client said to the woman as she tearfully hugged her. "I want a cute little girl more than anything. But it's fine even if it's a boy."

    The surrogate -- a 24-year-old Chinese woman living in Tokyo and working as a club hostess -- replied with a laugh, "Don't worry. I'm emotionally prepared. And I really think it's going to be a girl."

    Of slender build and wearing fraying black sneakers, the woman said a gangster had approached her about surrogacy as "new way of paying back money" after she had fallen into debt.

    The meeting between the client and the surrogate, which was observed by the attending doctor, lasted all of two minutes. After the client rushed out of the room, the young surrogate then waited to have the fertilized egg transplanted into her uterus.

    The male Japanese doctor -- the head of an infertility clinic in Tokyo who had agreed to carry out the procedure at the request of the broker -- consulted the woman's medical chart and asked her to get changed.

    After she had donned a pink hospital gown and climbed onto the operating table, the doctor kept one eye on the ultrasound monitor while skillfully maneuvering a catheter to suck up a fertilized egg that appeared on the monitor.

    Utilizing the client couple's egg and sperm, the fertilized egg had been created in the very same room in January and then incubated. The next step was to transplant it into the surrogate woman's uterus. If successfully implanted, then conditions would be in place for the birth of a baby nine months later.

    Just three minutes after the procedure had started, the doctor said, "OK, we're done." The fertilized egg had successfully been transplanted into the woman's uterus.

    He then said to her, "Please come back in a week for observation. After we have confirmed the gestational sac (around the fetus), you can go ahead and start visiting a clinic in your own neighborhood."

    The woman nodded, a faraway look in her eyes.

    According to a Chinese man involved with the surrogate mother brokerage connecting Japan and China, "The business started four years ago -- and there have already been 74 successful births."

    Due in part to the fact that the one-child policy was abolished in China in January this year, and couples may now legally have a second child, 18 couples desiring surrogate births came to this facility between Feb. 7-13 during the Lunar New Year holiday for procedures to extract their eggs and sperm.

    The reason why the couples chose Japan over the United States -- where surrogacy-related laws are in place -- is said to be in order to pave the way to eventually settle in Japan.

    "Most of the surrogate mothers are Chinese women living in Japan, but three of them are Japanese," the broker explained. "Some of the children are being raised here in child care centers."

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