Womb for Rent: Exploring Surrogacy in Kenya

University life can get quite hard in Kenya especially when you have limited resources and are trying to get through your education. Picture this * : Terry is classmates with Sharon at a local university in Kenya and they are both struggling financially. Terry informs Sharon that they could get fifty thousand Kenyan shillings if they sell their ovaries at a fertility clinic. This would offer a shortcut escape route from their financial situation. Sharon is shocked as much as I and you that someone could casually mention such a delicate thing as though it meant nothing. While Sharon was not as informed on matters of surrogacy, it did not sit well with her conscience that people can get money in exchange for their ovaries. Sadly, this story is one of the many such situations young girls in Kenya find themselves in.

 

Kenya has been offering surrogacy services to both African and international patients over the years despite no laws in place to help govern the practice. Become Parents is one surrogacy agency that openly documents its services and clients on YouTube and other social media platforms. A quick Google search would help you discover a robust industry especially in the Upperhill area of Nairobi where several hospitals offer in vitro fertilization (IVF) and surrogacy services. In these hospitals, young girls from a minimum age of 21 could donate eggs and receive between 500-1000 US dollars. For one to be a surrogate, you have to be 25 years of age with at least one child. This pays higher. With a majority of the Kenyan population being economically disadvantaged, young women such as Sharon and Terry would easily fall for this way of objectification disguised as an opportunity. 

WYA’s White Paper on Surrogacy defines the term as “a practice whereby a woman becomes pregnant with the intention of giving the child to someone else upon birth”. Understandably, it is a means of becoming parents for those who are unable to bear children naturally. In commercial surrogacy, surrogates are paid a fee while in altruistic surrogacy, compensation is limited to expenses, such as health care and travel. Closely related to surrogacy is IVF which may involve a combination of both surgical and medical procedures to help sperm fertilize an egg and have the fertilized egg be implanted in the uterus.

With the prices being as low as a fourth of what is paid in Western countries, Kenya is often marketed as an affordable destination. South Africa is currently the only African country that has legalized surrogacy. Kenya’s surrogacy industry continues to raise serious concerns as vulnerable women and children are exploited. For instance, there have been reports of fraud, identity theft, coerced abortion, and even reports of human trafficking. I encourage you to watch an exposé by Africa Uncensored to get a glimpse of how dire the situation is in Kenya. 

The first attempt at legislating surrogacy in Kenya was the introduction of the Reproductive Health (RH) Bill in 2014 and just recently in the RH Bill of 2019. In both of these attempts, it was withdrawn for further talks. The RH bill introduced in the Senate created a stir especially as it placed focus on providing abortion services and contraception to teenagers. National legislation has thus failed to repeatedly protect the commissioned mother and child. 

WYA’s criticism of surrogacy is based on existing international law. Surrogacy does not fit in any area be it contract law or adoption law. Under international law, Article 4 of the Convention on Protection of Children & Cooperation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption prohibits the surrender of a child before birth which is the case of surrogacy. The Oveido Convention explicitly prohibits the use of the human body for financial gain. In such agreements, a woman is only valued for her reproductive system and the children are treated as commodities that can be acquired at a price.

While we empathize with persons dealing with issues of infertility, surrogacy opens a whole lot of ethical and moral concerns. WYA’s White Paper on Surrogacy shows that there is no customary law or treaty that grants the right to have a child. Solutions for infertility should respect the rights of both the surrogates and children involved and the focus should not be on treating the human person as an object. 

As young people, maintaining vigilance and being constantly informed on matters of our reproductive health is vital as these issues greatly affect us and our communities directly or indirectly. In cases where government policies such as Kenya’s RH Bill (2019) that threaten human dignity are brought up, we must call on our representatives to vote against them. Alternatives that protect the dignity of all parties should be used in place of surrogacy. There is a need more than ever to stand firm in our defense of a culture that affirms the inalienable dignity of the person, defends the intrinsic right to life, and nurtures the family.

*Based on the author’s real life experience

Published: Aug. 14, 2021
Written by: Miriam Ogwel (a B2 2021 WYA Headquarters Online Intern from Kenya) and Gideon Vision Olufeagba (a B2 2021 WYA Headquarters Online Intern from Nigeria)

How can we analyze local policies in our country through the lens of human dignity? Learn more by applying for the WYA Advocacy Academy