In Summary
  • The marriage rate in China has been in decline over the last five years.
  • Last year, only 7.2 out of 1,000 people got married, according to official statistics.
  • Conceiving a child through a foreign sperm bank starts from 200,000 yuan ($28,500).

Looking at page after page of childhood photos, Xiaogunzhu was drawn to an image of a French-Irish boy with smiling dark blue eyes.

But she was not admiring her lover's family album, she was browsing a catalogue of potential sperm donors -- the 39-year-old is one of an increasing number of affluent single women in China that are seeking a child, but not a husband.

Unmarried women in China are largely barred from accessing sperm banks and in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) treatment, forcing them to seek options abroad.

Her choice made -- donor #14471 on the website of a Californian sperm bank -- Xiaogunzhu flew to the US to begin the first rounds of treatment.

"There are many women who won't get married, so they might not fulfil this fundamental biological mission," Xiaogunzhu told AFP, using the name she blogs under to avoid any negative attention.

"But I felt another path had opened up," she added.

Her baby, now nine months old, is called Oscar after a character in a comic about the French revolution -- a nod to the donor's French ancestry.

LOW MARRIAGE RATE

The marriage rate in China has been in decline over the last five years. Last year, only 7.2 out of 1,000 people got married, according to official statistics.

Educated professional women face "discrimination" when seeking spouses, explained sociologist Sandy To, as their male partners have "difficulty accepting their higher educational or economic accomplishments."

But many feel that struggling to find or simply not wanting a partner should not preclude them from motherhood.

Xiaogunzhu believes a father isn't necessary -- her own was controlling and often angry, dimming her view of the traditional family set-up.

"Why does everyone think that children will ask: 'why don't I have a father?'" she said.

Analysts predict that the total market in China for fertility services will reach $1.5 billion in 2022 -- more than double its 2016 value.

BOOMING DEMAND

But demand for services overseas for Chinese nationals is also booming.

Danish sperm and egg bank Cryos International has created a Chinese website and added Chinese-speaking staff. American and European sperm banks told AFP that they have increasing numbers of Chinese clients.

But the journey is neither cheap nor easy.

China's national health department stipulates that the purpose of sperm banks is for "treating infertility and preventing genetic diseases".

In practice, that prohibits non-married women from using them.

"We want to help these single women but, unfortunately, we truly are politically restricted," said Liu Jiaen, the director of a fertility hospital in Beijing. Liu said the limitation is "a pity".

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