Making a love child for others

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Hien, a garment worker in Hung Yen Province in northern Vietnam, has agreed to donate her eggs and rent her womb for VND300 million (US$14,500), all expenses paid.

Under the agreement, Hien, a virgin, would have to sleep with a rich businessman who has been married for ten years but whose wife cannot bear him a child because she suffers from ovarian cysts. The wife is party to the agreement as well.

Surrogate pregnancy is not allowed in Vietnam, but it is an existing service based on real demand and suppliers who need money, with the surrogates also the egg donors, according to a Tuesday report on the news website of Vietnam Cable Television.

Hien lives in a rented house of just 10 square meters with three other co-workers in the province's Nhu Quynh town, around 20 kilometers from Hanoi.

The 20-year-old earns VND3 million a month from working extra hours, but the money is not enough to support two younger siblings at home in Ninh Binh Province, also in the north, and pay the asylum where her mother is being treated after her father died five years ago.

Hien said two other workers at her factory had provided the surrogacy service earlier.

"That's easy money so I want to try. I would do it just one time to have money so I can start a stable business at home while taking care of my mother," Hien said.

"I am fed up with being far from home with an unstable job," she said in the report.

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The 20-year-old woman will be paid one-third of the agreed money in advance, another one third after she delivers the baby, and the rest when the baby is taken. But she is hopeful of getting a bonus.

"Women I know have received bonuses of several thousand dollars if they delivered boys," said Hien, who lives in a country where many parents still value sons more than daughters because sons are needed to continue the family line.

The businessman, whose name and age has not been revealed, said he chose Hien after being introduced to dozens of girls.

"I cannot sleep with women who are too ugly. And I don't want my baby to come from a woman who looks untrustworthy," he said.

There was no mention in the report of the risks either party to the agreement faced of contracting HIV or other sexually transmitted diseases.

The businessman was introduced to Hien, as well as other women, by Minh, a popular broker in the region, who sets her price at VND10 million ($500). Like the surrogate mothers, she also stood to get generous tips in "successful cases."

Minh said the service is not legal, thus it operates mainly on free will and mutual trust.

"Money is not an issue for most sterile couples when they really want a baby. They would give anything to get a lovely baby. So it's unlikely that they cancel the service or refuse to pay at the end," the broker said.

She said she herself tries to guarantee good service by only choosing women she has known for a while, and never agrees to work with sex workers.

Minh, who is from Hanoi, has successfully provided the service to 40 sterile couples with babies from factory workers, mostly in northern provinces such as Thai Binh, Nam Dinh, Thanh Hoa, Nghe An and Hung Yen. Some of the workers were in the southern region, she said, adding the service was also available in Ho Chi Minh City.

Minh began providing her service nearly ten years ago after helping a worker with an unexpected pregnancy find parents for her baby.

The rich parents at the time gave Minh VND50 million in gratitude. She gave VND30 million to the girl and took the rest as she had been taking care of the woman during her pregnancy and delivery.

Soon after, the parents contacted Minh and asked her to persuade the girl to give them another child, in exchange for a house in Hanoi.

The girl agreed, setting an example for many factory workers in northern Vietnam looking for opportunities to change their lives for the better.

Minh said she requires that her either party to an arrangement not seeing each other once the baby is transferred. Sometimes the child is given to the waiting parents as soon as it is delivered, while some parents want the baby to be breast fed for at least four months before they collect it.

The report did not explain how the baby, which is born in a hospital to the biological mother, is registered as the child of the father and the foster mother.

The broker said her job sounds like human trafficking, but it actually solves the problems of many people.

"The service helps end the big financial difficulties faced by countryside women such as factory workers or maids in large cities.

"More importantly, it brings the happiness of being parents to sterile couples."

According to Minh, there are at least two other people offering the service in Hanoi, and many in HCMC where the service is cheaper and sex workers are also employed.

Sad side effects

In her long experience, Minh said she cannot deny she has witnessed many sad side effects of her service.

She remembered Lien, a factory worker, who smothered her baby with kisses as the couple who had hired her service waited to collect the child.

"I don't want to leave my child. I would miss him so much, what can I do?" the woman asked Minh half an hour before the couple arrived.

She kept looking at the baby as the father placed stacks of money on her desk, Minh recalled.

The boy was the third child that the 25-year-old Lien was being a surrogate mother for. She needed the money badly because her father suffered from cancer and her mother was mentally ill.

Lien was also worried that she would not be able to find a husband because she had provided the service.

It is not just the surrogate mother who suffers the sad and bitter part of the service.

Nguyen Thi H., a sterile mother in Hanoi, lost her husband after agreeing to introduce him to the service. She thought it was safe to do so as they had lived together for 20 years.

When she found out that her husband was having an affair with the woman who gave them the baby, she demanded a divorce. The man left the child, then three-years-old old, with her, and started a new life with the other woman.

"Honestly, I ask myself many times. What am I doing? Is it immoral?" said Minh.

"But then that's life. Everything has two sides."

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