Commercial surrogacy is banned in all Australian states and territories bar the Northern Territory, where there are no laws.
Kenya has opened as a new frontier for Australians seeking babies via commercial surrogacy arrangements, as desperate couples turn to unregulated overseas markets to start their families. New figures from the Department of Home Affairs reveal that in the financial year to April 30, 193 babies born overseas via surrogacy have been granted Australian citizenship. This exceeds the full previous financial year’s total of 175 babies.
There was a huge jump in babies born in Ukraine — in the 10 months to April 30, 61 babies born with the help of surrogate mothers in that country were handed Australian passports. This is up from 26 for all of 2017-18, and nine in 2016-17. There were also 17 babies born in Georgia to Australian-intended parents, up from seven for all of 2017-18 and eight the previous year.
Kenya has emerged as a new high-risk destination for Australians seeking surrogacy services. Five babies born in the east African nation have been granted Australian citizenship so far this financial year, although surrogacy there is unregulated. This is up from fewer than five in 2017-18 and none the three previous years.
The lack of regulation means a higher risk of surrogate mothers being exploited and receiving poor medical care, and there is also discrimination against same-sex parents.
Since July 2014, 964 babies born via surrogacy arrangements overseas have been granted Australian citizenship by descent.
India and Thailand were the destinations of choice five years ago for Australians desperate to start a family. However, they shut their doors to overseas commercial surrogacy following widely publicised scandals, including the case of “baby Gammy”, who had Down syndrome and was abandoned in Thailand in 2014 by his Australian biological parents.
There were 180 babies born in India and Thailand who became Australian citizens in 2014-15 but only 15 last financial year.
The US is now the most popular destination for Australians seeking surrogacy services. Commercial surrogacy is permitted and well regulated in several US states, but it can cost more than $180,000 — out of reach of many Australians.
Surrogacy Australia president Sam Everingham said Australians were now the third-largest users of international surrogacy services and donor eggs, and he said Australia needed to do more to support surrogacy domestically to ensure mothers and babies were protected and not as many couples needed to go overseas. “There have been countless good recommendations put forward by review committees,” he said. “The government needs to urgently act on those.”
While it is illegal to advertise in most Australian jurisdictions for a surrogate, Surrogacy Australia recently launched an “altruistic” service to match those wanting to become parents with surrogate mothers. Mr Everingham said the service screened intended parents to ensure they were suitable and conducted police checks.
At a surrogacy conference in Melbourne at the weekend, speakers discussed the fact that reliable international options were becoming limited. One father shared his Kenyan surrogacy experience; his baby was in intensive care for a month and his same-sex partner — the child’s other intended father — was not allowed to visit.
Once in Australia, the children’s legal parentage is uncertain. The full Family Court refused in 2017 to recognise a Melbourne couple, known as “Mr and Mrs Bernieres”, as the legal parents of a girl born overseas via a surrogacy arrangement, even though the couple were raising the girl as their daughter and Mr Bernieres was her biological father. This is because they were not recognised as parents under the relevant state legislation.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Home Affairs said the principal requirement for Australian citizenship by descent was that at the time the child was born outside Australia, the person had an Australian citizen parent.
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Based on The Australian