Some rich Chinese in south China’s Shenzhen (深圳), fourth largest city and one of the first Special Economic Zones in China are reportedly hiring wet nurses for themselves. “If necessary, they can drink directly from the tap.” said a report in Beijing Evening News, referring to the implicit sexual motive behind the behavior. The Shenzhen Police has said that such behavior is on the borderline of a sexual act and it was difficult to investigate. The news, once exposed on line, instantly became a hot topic on Weibo.
Not all wet nurses are for adults, though. The Beijing Evening News report tells the story of a 25-year-old young mother with a two-month-old son, whose husband, a factory worker, earns only 2,000 yuan a month. Worrying for her son’s future education costs, she decided to leave her son to her mother-in-law and became a full-time wet-nurse. She was provided with board and lodging along with an 8,500 yuan monthly income.
The agency which introduces the wet nurse candidates to the customers, boasts to be the only one in Shenzhen, even in China, to provide such a service. The candidates come from all over China, most from poor background with babies less than a year old. Because of China’s one-child policy, this is a once in a life time opportunity for many poor women to earn a large sum. In six to eight months, they could earn as much as 120,000 yuan ($ 19,584) for a relatively easy job: breast feeding the baby. Lin Jun, the person in charge of the agency, said all the candidates have to be screened to make sure that they are fit and healthy.
In China, there is no law on this type of work, making it an awkward profession, sitting on the fence of legality. The title “wet nurse” is purposefully omitted in the contracts. The customers, also from across China, could be categorized into four types: new moms who cannot breast feed; moms with early-weaned babies having adverse reactions to formula; figure-minded new moms who choose not to breast feed and lastly, adults who want to drink breast milk which they believe could be good for their health.
The profession has existed for several years and was particularly well-paid during the notorious tainted formula scandal in 2008. The wet nurses for adults are paid more money than those for babies. Their salary averages at 16,000 yuan per month. Healthy and good-looking women get paid even more. For a salary high enough, the customers can suck milk directly from their breast.
“It is a fashionable aliment in Shenzhen’s high-end market.” said Lin Jun. He revealed that his customers include patients who could only eat liquid food after surgery or people who simply do not feel very well. A former customer said to the reporter that he hired a wet nurse because he was feeling very tired due to high work pressure and it was recommended to him by his Hong Kong friends. “I drank (breast milk) for a month and I didn’t feel any better.” he said.
The customer also said that it is very common among his friends to hire wet nurses for breast milk. However, very few would actually “drink directly from the tap”.
Most of the doctors agree that drinking breast milk cannot provide adults with extra nutrition and that it could cause harm to them if the lactating mother has disease or abuse antibiotics.
In an online poll on Weibo, an overwhelming majority of people denounced the behavior, calling it perverse and unethical. Many consider it as an inappropriate sexual behavior and lamented the fact that the poor have once again become merchandise for the rich.