Surrogacy case spotlights dangerous loopholes

16 February 2021 | Local News

Windhoek • [email protected]

A Canadian woman’s failed attempt to adopt twins born to a Namibian surrogate mother early last year has placed the lack of surrogacy guidelines in Namibia under the spotlight.
The gender ministry recently confirmed that the incident came to light early in 2020 when the Canadian woman took the twins to Home Affairs to register their birth. “The birth could not be registered by the adoptive parents as they are not the biological parents of the twins. That is when the case was referred to the gender ministry to look into the safety of the twins.”
The ministry added that “one of the twins was not well, so they were removed to the hospital and later discharged”.
Namibia’s child advocate at the Office of the Ombudsman, Ingrid Husselmann, said her office investigated a complaint in connection with the circumstances of the twins’ birth and surrogacy arrangement. While Husselmann underlined the need for privacy protection, she confirmed that in this case, a surrogate mother gave birth to the twins who were removed from her care and placed with relatives of their biological mother. “They are now safe and well,” she added.

Loopholes
A social worker, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the current lack of a comprehensive surrogacy law, which fails to guide and regulate such arrangements, is potentially ripe for exploitation of children and birth mothers.
While none of the authorities could confirm how much the Namibian mother was paid last year, the social worker said it was, to her knowledge, substantial. She pointed out that in the aftermath, the babies were briefly stuck in no man's land.
“There are no decent guidelines on surrogacy in Namibia. That is a serious problem.”
Another expert confirmed that there have been cases that seemed suspicious. “There are instances where the arrangement may have been used with the intent to produce babies for adoption in other countries, which constitutes a form of child trafficking.”
While the CapeWindhoek fertility clinic offers surrogacy services on its website, practice manager Fred Kigozi confirmed that surrogacy is not being offered at this time “due to the law which is not clear on the matter”.

No crime
In the case of the twins, the breakdown in the surrogacy agreement was not investigated by the police due to insufficient evidence of criminal intent or trafficking.
The gender ministry confirmed that the adoptive parent did consider legal action “to get the kids back, but she later withdrew the case”. The Ministry of Home Affairs denied that any “suspicious” cases were handled last year and explained that in instances when adoptive parents register a birth, “we will merely inform the surrogate and intended mothers”.
The gender ministry confirmed there is no “comprehensive legislation in Namibia that provides for surrogacy”. However, the ministry and others pointed out that the Child Care and Protection Act prohibits the publication and advertisement for the purposes of calling upon any person to be a surrogate mother of a child.
Moreover, the Act, through its regulation of insemination and in vitro fertilisation, to a degree, makes provision for the regulation of surrogacy agreements.
The gender ministry warned that those who engage in surrogacy arrangements “do so at their own risk because there is no legislation to protect all parties”.
While local adoptions are carefully assessed, in the case of surrogacy “the prospective parents are not assessed to determine their suitability and safety as parents and this can result in children being placed with dangerous or unsuitable parents”.
The ministry underlined it is crucial for the public to first consult social workers before they engage in a surrogacy arrangement, adding that persons who are not biological parents cannot register a birth.

For hire
Online searches revealed a number of Namibians offering surrogacy services. The details of the women are shielded by pay-walls.
Thirty-four profiles can be found on the website findsurrogatemother.com, in which Namibian women advertise surrogacy services. One woman writes that she is already a mother of two children, but wishes to help hopeful persons in return for money to fund her education.
On another website, surrogatefinder.com, there are 43 profiles of Namibians.
The Legal Assistance Centre’s Dianne Hubbard confirmed that there is no legal framework for surrogacy in Namibia. “Not knowing how the courts would treat a surrogacy arrangement makes it a risky venture.”