With the economic reforms of 1991, India saw an unprecedented growth in its services sector. Such a remarkable growth occurred due to the presence of trained manpower available at low costs in comparison to the foreign contenders. This through forward and backward linkages has brought home substantial gains benefiting different sections of the society.
A service now outsourced extends to “womb on rent” or to put it simply “baby production outsourcing- BPO”. The more professional word for this being ‘surrogacy ‘. The word surrogate means substitute or replacement – and a surrogate mother is one who lends her uterus to another couple so that they can have a baby. In recent times, India has seen an ever increasing number of foreigners flying down searching for happiness. The trend has set in with a number of NRI s and others requesting and searching for surrogates in India for a myriad reasons. This new emerging sector is estimated to be multi million dollars huge already! It is expected to expand further given the positive legal status, availability of high skilled medical assistance, and most importantly a large pool of women population in India. These women are generally willing to volunteer to fulfill their economic requirements like buying a house, child’s education, medical needs of child or spouse and the list goes on.
The story of how India became the land of hope for many desperate parents is an interesting one. It dates back to the year 2003 when Dr. Nayna Patel, a clinic’s director in the small town of Anand, orchestrated the surrogacy of a local woman who wanted to “lend” her womb to her U.K.-based daughter. The woman gave birth to test-tube twins —doctor’s own genetic grandchildren — and the event made headlines worldwide. Afterward, Patel was swamped with requests for surrogacy. It was followed by a stream of hopeless couples who after years of childless marriage finally resorted to surrogacy. Her clinic now has a pool of surrogate mothers, mostly impoverished women from nearby villages who are paid between $5000 and $7000 – an equivalent to the 10 years’ salary of a rural Indian.
While a number of couples flying down to India to find surrogates are attracted by the cost factors, some come because of the legal status that was given to it way back in 2002. The cost differences are clear-cut whilst in the US, surrogate mothers are typically paid $15,000, and agencies claim another $30,000. In India, the entire costs are much lower than that. While it is illegal or completely banned in some parts of the world it is entirely accepted in other parts of the globe. Movements to allow for surrogate motherhood have been rejected by voters in places like Sweden, Spain, France, and Germany. Other nations that do allow it, including South Africa, the UK, and Argentina, employ independent ethics committees to evaluate surrogacy requests on a case-by-case basis. More recent example of the Israeli gay couple hiring a surrogate in India throws light on the differences in the legal pattern across countries. While Israel doesn’t allow same sex couples to adopt children or to have a surrogate mother, the same is permissible in India.
Some may call India and especially Anand (a small town in the state of Gujarat) as ‘hamlet of hope’. This trend of reproductive tourism has helped India earn foreign exchange like any other foreign trade transaction and at the same time helped poor women earn money along with lighting up lives of many dejected couples. Without belittling all the positives of the reproductive tourism it has attracted some bad publicity as well. Critics say that the business is not regulated by the government and point to an infant mortality rate that is much higher than it is in the United States. While the loopholes in the regulatory system raises concern about the welfare of the Indian women and misuse of the surrogacy. At the same it also shows distress on the fact that people who have an option of adoption are not going in for it. Some proponents and doctors with clinics serving the couples argue that all the concerns are dumbfounded as they ensure that the women offering to be surrogates are in good health and are monitored regularly all the way through pregnancy.
But this fact alone can’t take away all the worries as there are some major grey areas that need to be paid attention to. The remuneration paid to the surrogates in India is 3-4 times lower than what is given to women in US. So is there a need for stricter laws to safeguard these women’s interest by setting some wage standards? If she gets ill as a result of the pregnancy who will pay the medical costs? What happens if the child is handicapped and is unwanted by the couple and the surrogate mother? The questions do not end here; it’s like a Pandora’s Box waiting to be opened.
Again the very stance of the Indian laws raise concerns, to put it simply it comes out as a contradiction that while homosexuality is considered illegal,the hiring of a surrogate by a gay couple is not measured with the same view. It is worth noting that , the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) issued Guidelines in 2005 to check the malpractices of Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) but they being non statutory, having no legal sanctity are not binding. Silent on major issues, they lack strength and are often violated.
Reproductive tourism has emerged as a powerful service strengthening and benefiting a number of stakeholders but at the same time the evils associated can not be ignored too. Thus with a thorough analysis of the issue at hand the government needs to step up regulation and put in efforts to make it a win-win situation for all the parties involved.