Georgian Adoption Scam

Impoverished Georgian women are offering themselves up as surrogate mothers to make ends meet.

Georgian Adoption Scam

Impoverished Georgian women are offering themselves up as surrogate mothers to make ends meet.

Tuesday, 18 September, 2001

Eight years ago Zhenya Z. was diagnosed as infertile. She decided to adopt but all her efforts to do so came to naught. In desperation, she resorted to unconventional means.

A young woman who was about to give birth registered at a maternity hospital under Zhenya's name. Zhenya's family handed over $2,000 for the delivery, the newborn baby - and the silence of the hospital staff.

This practice is increasingly common in Georgia. Parents who've run out of patience with the authorities are illegally purchasing babies from surrogate mothers - a process that also involves bribing hospital staff to register the adopted child under a false name.

In some country towns there are women who have made a cottage industry of their fertility, producing several children who now live with adoptive parents.

"Some might say it's immoral," said one surrogate mother, "but what can I do? I have to bring up my own children, and there's no chance of finding a job here in the country. If I earn money by helping families that cannot have their own children, what's wrong with that?"

Ask around Tbilisi, and there will be no end to people who talk openly of "buying" unwanted children from hospitals. Foreigners are particularly welcome customers. A couple from Western Europe spoke of how their failure to adopt a child in their home country led them to look for ways of doing so abroad. A Georgian friend advised them to try Tbilisi, but they soon realised that adoption through official channels was as difficult as it was at home.

"A foreigner can apply to adopt a child six months after it has been given up for adoption," said Tamara Amzashvili of the education ministry. "Only citizens are eligible to adopt for the first six months of a baby's life, and there's already a waiting list of 12,000 couples."

Foreigners soon realise that making an illegal deal with hospital staff is a far quicker route to success. "We obtained the name of a doctor who agreed to help us," said one hopeful mother from Western Europe. "They already knew of a woman about to give birth and her child could be registered as ours in the hospital. We ended up paying around $2,000."

A Greek woman said she paid nearly $2,000 for her new baby: $1,000 went to the doctors, $400 to the natural mother and another $400 to cover the cost of forging the birth documents.

Georgian women who sell their babies usually make their first contact with hospital staff when they apply to have an abortion. "I was pregnant and knew that I couldn't afford to bring up a child," said one. "I went to the out-patient clinic in Tbilisi and asked a nurse what an abortion would cost.

"The nurse suggested that, instead of having an abortion, I help an infertile family. I'd have the satisfaction of knowing my kid was being brought up in a nice environment and I'd also get some money."

This mother had sold several children this way. "I never see them again and I never know who are the new parents," she said. "They obviously contact the hospital directly."

The network clearly works smoothly. Fixers simply wait for another reluctant mother to come to the clinic and enquire about an abortion, and then arrange the deal through their hospital connections.

But one woman who went into hospital to give birth said that the staff almost compelled her to sell her newborn baby. "When I went in, my husband was on a business trip," she said. "They probably thought I was single and would have difficulties bringing up the child by myself. One of the staff told me I should consider passing my child on to a wealthy family. They said they would pay me $1,000. I was shocked."

The day after the birth, she said, she was prevented from seeing her baby." They told me it was sick, and probably wouldn't survive. But, fortunately, my husband had come back to Tbilisi. He argued with the doctors and I was discharged the same day. When we visited our local doctor, he said that the baby was absolutely healthy."

The couple has never filed a case against the hospital. "What can we prove?" the mother said.

A spokesman for the frontier control unit said he knew of no cases of babies being spirited out of the country on false documents. But a customs officer at Tbilisi airport had a different tale to tell.

"Sometimes we see wealthy foreigners leaving the country with a newborn baby," he said. "We know the baby was bought, because people don't normally give birth in the middle of a holiday in a developing country. But we can find no fault with the documents. They are always in order."

Zaza Baazov is an independent journalist based in Tbilisi, Georgia

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