(WOMENSENEWS)–Chandini, 27, holds the hand of her 6-year-old daughter as she enters an in vitro fertilization center for a checkup.
“I had to change two buses to make it to here,” she says in a hushed voice, smiling as she wipes the sweat off her forehead with her cotton sari.
Chandini says she became a surrogate mother to earn money for her family.
“I want a better life for my daughters,” she says.
Her husband’s earnings as a daily wage carpenter – around $80 a month – isn’t enough to support their two daughters, so Chandini works as a housemaid and has become a surrogate. She’s been promised almost $4,500 for carrying and delivering this fetus for a Canadian couple, who couldn’t bear their own child.
“This money means a lot to me,” she says.
Hundreds of Indian women rent their wombs to earn money for their families. And the number is growing here, where commercial surrogacy is legal and there are so far no laws or governmental oversight.
Since India legalized commercial surrogacy in 2002, in vitro fertilization centers have multiplied, attracting aspiring parents from around the globe, says Sanjay Agarwal, chairman of SATYA, an advocacy organization for surrogate children’s rights.
The low cost of infertility treatment in India – nearly one-quarter of the cost in developed nations – and the modern assisted reproductive techniques available here make India a top choice for infertility treatments, according to the Indian government’s medical tourism Web site. The Confederation of Indian Industry predicts that commercial surrogacy will be a $2.3 billion industry by 2012.
Unofficial Surrogacy World Capital
Gujarat, a state in western India, has become the unofficial surrogacy capital of the world.
Dr. Nayna Patel, who became the face of the Indian surrogacy industry when Oprah Winfrey profiled her and her Gujarat clinic, Akanksha Infertility Clinic, in 2007, says the money earned from being a surrogate mother transforms lives.
In India, 42 percent of the population lives below the international poverty line of $1.25 a day, according to UNICEF.
“It’s only for our financial difficulties [that] my husband let[s] me do it,” Chandini says.
Sighing, Chandini adds that “daughters mean burden” in India, referring to the steep dowry that many families must pay their daughters’ husbands when they get married.
But Manasi Mishra, head of a surrogacy study at the New Delhi-based Centre for Social Research, says that surrogate mothers’ lives aren’t improved that much financially.
Surrogacy also raises legal concerns, says the center’s director, Ranjana Kumari, as there aren’t legal provisions to protect the surrogate mother, child or parents-to-be.
The majority of surrogate mothers dislike the way clinics treat them, according to the center’s surrogacy study. Women are often coerced into repeated inseminations if the first one fails, not allowed to meet the receiving families and paid only after relinquishing the baby to the clinic.
Kumari says commercial surrogacy also has social ramifications. Although Western cultures accept it, traditional Indian values condemn it.
“A surrogate mother can face many levels of violence, including social ostracizing,” Kumari says.
But Patel disagrees.
“All the reputed IVF clinics have been following many guidelines,” she says. “Who says that surrogate mothers are exploited?”
A Dangerous Process
SATYA’s Agarwal says health care conditions here also make it a dangerous process for women, who tend to have children of their own to care for.
“Is it ethical for a country like India, which has one of the worst maternal mortality rates in the world, where a woman dies during childbirth every seven minutes, to promote and allow commercial surrogacy?” Agarwal asks.
The Indian Council of Medical Research has drafted a bill to govern surrogacy.
“The bill will take some time to become a law,” says Dr. R.S. Sharma, a member of the drafting committee.
Chandini says she doesn’t tell people — not even her children — that she’s a surrogate mother.
“Akanksha has specialized counseling programs for the to-be surrogate mother,” Patel says, to help with the social stigma and potential pain of giving up one’s baby. “They are made to meet the commissioning parents, too. And of course they are taken good care of.”
Chandini says it isn’t easy, but that she has few other options.
“It takes a heart to give away a baby you feel growing in your womb for nine months,” Chandini says. “It’s what being poor makes you do.”