The Indian government’s recent order banning foreigners from using Indian surrogate mothers in the country has hit the booming commercial surrogacy industry in the country. The move has pushed many couples to go to the black market, but has deprived other couples of a chance of having children as the process is very expensive in the developed western countries and not everyone can afford the costs.
“The intention (to ban commercial surrogacy for foreigners in India) of the government might be noble, but it is not without consequence. More and more foreigners are visiting India in search of surrogate mothers. They go to underground clinics which offer them such services. They charge a premium from the couple, but pay peanuts to the surrogate mother. This is worse than allowing commercial surrogacy. It has started turning into a cartel now. Many women are promised an amount to bear a child for such couples, but are not paid even a fraction of the amount. According to the reports we get, there are thousands of underground surrogacy clinics operating in Delhi,” Shipra Jain, a social activist in Delhi, told The Sunday Guardian.
“The surrogacy industry is not regulated. Our research has shown that most of the surrogates are poorly paid and have no health insurance. India has no dearth of women willing to rent out their womb for couples who visit India in search of a surrogate mother. Surrogacy in India is mostly not something a surrogate mother looks forward to, but in desperate times, many end up choosing this option,” Shipra said.
In an affidavit to the Supreme Court in October last year, the government had said it “does not support commercial surrogacy”. “No foreigner can avail surrogacy services in India,” it told the apex court, which was hearing a petition regarding the need to regulate the commercial surrogacy industry. The government had added that it would be available “only for Indian couples”.
“Thousands of infertile couples from overseas come to India in search of Indian surrogate mothers. We did as well. We had found out that the government here had banned commercial surrogacy for foreigners, but the procedure in our country is very expensive. We cannot afford it. It’s our only chance at having kids. We do not come here to harm anyone,” Adam (name changed), who came to India with wife Kate (name changed) from the United States in search of a surrogate mother, told this newspaper.
“Circumstances forced us to search for hidden clinics offering surrogacy services to couples like us. An Indian friend took us to a place in Delhi’s Greater Kailash where we met the doctor and the surrogate mother. We paid somewhere around 6,000 pounds to the mother and 3,000 pounds for the procedure. We paid whatever they asked for. The lady told us that she had given birth to a surrogate child six months ago, but she needed the money. She said that they had promised her Rs 5,00,000, but she got only Rs 1,00,000. We pray day and night that our child is born safe and healthy,” Kate said.
The Indian government has now also banned the exit of children of foreigners born out of surrogate pregnancies in India.
“We will stay here till our child is born. I don’t know how we’ll take the child back home. We are just desperate right now,” Kate added. Due to skilled medical practitioners, cheap technology and a steady supply of local surrogates, India has become a favourite destination of couples searching for wombs for rent. It is also one of the few countries where a woman can be paid to carry another’s child. Despite the huge commercial surrogacy market in India, it does not have any proper law to regulate the industry that ensures rights and safety of surrogate mothers. The commercial surrogacy industry functions as per the guidelines issued by the Indian Council of Medical Research. It had also drafted the Assisted Reproductive Technology (Regulation) Bill, but that has not been implemented for several years now.
Up till the enactment of a law on the Assisted Reproductive Technology Bill, 2013, the guidelines issued by the MHA in July 2012 maintain that surrogacy is restricted to infertile Indian married couples, apart from the OCIs, PIOs and NRI married couples. Foreigners married for at least two years were earlier allowed to take a medical visa for surrogacy in India. This has now been disallowed.
According to official estimates, about 8,000 surrogacy clinics are currently in operation in Delhi. Most of them are operating illegally or underground. Around 10,000 foreign couples visit India each year to commission surrogacy. The commercial surrogacy industry in India is valued at $400 million.