Watch moment US parents meet their surrogate baby boy in war-torn Ukraine as documentary exposes how the black market of commercial surrogacy is thriving in places like Kenya following Russia’s invasion
- Parents Gio and Candice travelled from their home in San Francisco in May 2022
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This is the tear-jerking moment when a mother and father meet their baby son from a surrogate for the first time in war-torn Ukraine.
Parents Gio and Candice travelled from their home in San Francisco in May 2022 to collect their newborn from the war-ravaged country after hiring a surrogate to carry the child for them.
The new mother and father, who knew each other as children before reconnecting and marrying in their 30s, struggled for years to get pregnant after Candice was diagnosed with uterine cancer.
They turned to surrogacy to start their family, but it was too expensive in the US so they travelled to Ukraine shortly before the war began.
They are united with their little boy in National Geographic’s docuseries, Trafficked with Mariana van Zeller, which also explores how the black market of commercial surgery is thriving in places like Kenya after the biggest supplier, Ukraine, was left an unsafe option.
Project Dynamo, a veteran-led, donor-funded international search, rescue, aid and assistance non-profit organisation, helps the parents reach the hospital housing their newborn – and in emotional scenes the couple are introduced to their son, Vincent.
However, the original plan was for the duo to meet their child at a safer location, rather than at the city hospital.
But thanks to Ukraine’s strict regulations to ensure babies ‘don’t get misplaced, or worse trafficked’, says the documentary, the organisation was told it couldn’t collect the youngster on the parents’ behalf.
So instead, the parents rushed to the hospital to meet their baby boy, with journalist Mariana van Zeller watching on as the emotional family moment occurred.
Ukraine was the epicentre of the billion-dollar global surrogacy business, until the war with Russia upended the controversial industry.
Now, with the demand for surrogacy still surging, other countries are stepping in to fill the void.
But that’s not necessarily a good thing. In this episode, airing Sunday at 9pm, Mariana investigates how the dream of starting a family is fuelling a babies-for-cash black market.
The industry – which brings over $4billion a year, according to the programme, – is outlawed in much of Asia and Europe – but not in Ukraine, with the country being the top destination for commercial surrogacy.
This is the tear-jerking moment when a mother and father meet their baby son from a surrogate for the first time in war-torn Ukraine
Parents Gio and Candice travelled from their home in San Francisco in May 2022 to collect their newborn from the war-ravaged country after hiring a surrogate to carry the child for them
The new mother and father, who knew each other as children before reconnecting and marrying in their 30s, struggled for years to get pregnant after Candice was diagnosed with uterine cancer
However, surrogate babies are trapped by war, with Project Dynamo rescuing 68 newborns already this year to unite them with their often-American parents.
Instead, some couples struggling to conceive are using the black market of commercial surrogacy in places like Kenya.
Mariana travels to the country, where she meets agents, doctors and surrogates who are illegally swapping babies for cash.
‘Surrogacy isn’t technically illegal in Kenya, in fact it’s openly advertised,’ explains the journalist.
‘But there aren’t any specific laws regulating it, that means couples must hire costly lawyers to navigate the country’s child trafficking laws, which ironically ends up fuelling cheaper black market operators.’
Mariana meets one such operator, Michelle, who recruits Kenyan women into surrogacy, claiming it offers an escape from extreme poverty if it’s done right.
However, one former surrogate, named as Ashley, reveals how she was forced to remain in an apartment throughout her pregnancy, receiving weekly meals, before she was taken to hospital ‘cramping and bleeding’.
After giving birth to a baby boy, he was taken away and Ashley was left with none of the money that an agent had agreed to pay her.
They turned to surrogacy to start their family, but it was too expensive in the US so they travelled to Ukraine shortly before the war began
They are united with their little boy in National Geographic’s docuseries, Trafficked with Mariana van Zeller, which also explores how the black market of commercial surgery is thriving in places like Kenya after the biggest supplier, Ukraine, was left an unsafe option
Project Dynamo, a veteran-led, donor-funded international search, rescue, aid and assistance non-profit organisation, helps the parents reach the hospital housing their newborn – and in emotional scenes the couple are introduced to their son, Vincent
The parents rushed to the hospital to meet their baby boy, with journalist Mariana van Zeller (pictured) watching on as the emotional family moment occurred
She tells Mariana: ‘My mum had five children, she was a single mum, she was struggling to raise us. So I had to join sex work.’
One day she was approached by a well-dressed woman in a ‘fancy car’ who groomed Ashley with ‘nice dresses, nice earrings, heels, because that’s what I like’, claims the former surrogate.
She was then told that if she became a surrogate, she would receive $800. She soon agreed and was taken to a fertility clinic.
But Ashley couldn’t tell any of her friends or loved ones what she was doing, per the arrangement, and also couldn’t leave the apartment that she was placed in following the treatment.
‘They told me it was for security purposes… you would not be able to have friends,’ she says, before adding: ‘I’ve heard stories that if you go back from your deal, they can kill you.’
‘It was a boy, but after I gave birth, I never saw him again… I suddenly woke up in a different hospital,’ she recalls. The agent that recruited Ashley was gone.
‘They don’t care if I died, they stole from me and used me… I didn’t have any evidence that what I was saying is true,’ admits Ashley, when asked if she had contacted the police.
She never signed a contract, all she had was the agent’s mobile phone number but it was no longer in service.
Mariana also chats to an unidentified man who says to call him Peter (pictured together). He isn’t the agent that cheated Ashleigh out of her money, but he does run a black market surrogacy operation
Mariana also chats to an unidentified man who says to call him Peter. He isn’t the agent that cheated Ashleigh out of her money, but he does run a black market surrogacy operation.
He says: ‘These girls when you get them from the village, they are basically uneducated and poor. They are doing this because of desperation.
‘So, I try to corrupt their minds, because their dream is money, I turn their dreams into another thing. It’s not the right thing to do but I’m in this business to make money.
‘The girls who come to the city they have just two dresses, a pair of shoes, and they have nowhere to sleep even that night. That’s when they contact me, even today in the morning, I had four wanting to go.’
Alongside his operation, Peter runs a legal employment agency that places Kenyan domestic workers in households throughout the Middle East.
‘I lure them into a more lucrative shortcut to make money,’ he says. ‘I make more money on surrogacy.’
When asked how much each surrogate is given, considering the process is priced at $20,000 to $40,000 for couples looking for help, Peter reveals: ‘We negotiate.
‘I mean I can exploit them if I want. I don’t. I make them as comfortable as possible, that is why my conscience allows me to do it. I am normally very good to them.’
Peter takes Mariana to his ‘safe house’ outside of a city, where he requires all his surrogates to stay inside during their pregnancies.
‘A lot of people are doing it in Kenya, we get away with a lot of things in Kenya,’ says Peter, adding: ‘I employ somebody to keep an eye [on the surrogates at the “safe house”]. They have to be, you know, under cover.’
‘Sometimes they have complaints. Human beings, are you know, never satisfied. They say “this safe house is not good. I’m being watched over like a kid, I want to be free.”‘
When at the ‘safe house’, Mariana takes the opportunity to speak to one of the surrogates, Sylvie, alone.
‘I don’t leave the house, I only go up stairs, I walk here. I don’t leave,’ the single mother, who had been desperately searching for work overseas, explains.
‘My family doesn’t know, nobody knows apart from me. [Peter] didn’t force me, he didn’t trick me, I’m doing it from my heart, I’d really love someone to feel how I feel as a parent.’
She reveals that she is going to paid less than $5,000, insisting: ‘When you come from poverty, any offer is an offer, as long as this offer brings money, you know.’
Mariana also talks to Peter’s doctor, whose face isn’t shown on camera because he admits he could lose his license or face jail time if he is discovered to be helping Peter’s operation.
‘It took a lot of time for them to convince me because I didn’t want to get involved in it,’ he says. ‘I did it for one, for the money.
‘The other reason was, I looked at the ladies that were getting into this business, and I thought this was a big, big break for them. They are going to make money out of it. How can I make it safe for them? I don’t want anybody dying on my hands.’
He confesses he personally knows of surrogates who have died but their families never know the reason because it’s illegal. He adds that there are a ‘dozen of [doctors] doing it.’
He’s helped with the birth of five babies a month, and he’s lost count of how many. He reveals that the babies belong to couples in Australia, Canada and America, for instance.
‘I agreed to talk to you because once this is out into the world we begin to get proper solutions,’ says the doctor. ‘Proper legislation to make it legal. If I keep quiet, who’s going to talk about it.’
There are six state of the art IVF clinics in Kenya and because the IVF process is highly specialised ‘it’s clear that at least one of Kenya’s six clinics is implanting embryos into the county’s black market surrogates’, claims the documentary.
The journalist was told how birth certificates are also forged so that the parents are on the paperwork.
Trafficked with Mariana van Zeller airs on National Geographic every Sunday at 9pm
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