India to Introduce Legislation Regulating Surrogacy

by jeeg 2. August 2010 19:53

Shabnum Nur Mohammed Sheikh's reasons for bearing another woman's child are straightforward: the 60 rupees (80p) her husband earns from his food stall each day buys dinner but little else.

Shabnum's first surrogate pregnancy got her out of a shared shack in a slum and into a small flat. Her second will pay for uniforms, books, bags and eventually, she hopes, university fees for her three young daughters.

"I hope my kids will work in computers or something like that," Shabnum, 26, said. "Then they will look after me when I'm old."

Pushpa Pandiya, 33, also left the slums after buying a small apartment with money earned from, in her case, two surrogate pregnancies. She too has a bright young daughter.

"Education is getting very costly but it is essential," she said, explaining that she was about to embark on her third pregnancy for some "very nice" foreigners.

Since 2002, when the practice was legalised, India has become a world centre of "surrogacy tourism".

A relative lack of red tape and prices that are a quarter of those in the US or Europe have brought thousands of childless couples to Indian clinics to be matched with women like Shabnum and Pushpa.

The Confederation of Indian Industry predicts the business will generate $2.3bn (£1.5bn) annually by 2012. A recent report by the Indian Law Commission described it as a "pot of gold".

Radical legislation is to be introduced to bring some order to this booming but almost unregulated sector.

One measure will make it compulsory for prospective parents to carry proof that any infant born to a surrogate mother will have automatic citizenship in their home countries in an attempt to avoid messy legal battles.

A second will stop clinics that perform the clinical procedures from sourcing, supplying and taking care of the surrogate mothers themselves.

"The IVF clinics' job is to do IVF. We want them away from the potential areas where corruption and malpractice take place," said Dr RS Sharma, secretary of the bill's drafting committee and deputy director general of the Indian Council for Medical Research.

Wise spending

The clinics are likely to resist such a move, citing the welfare of the mothers. Dr Nayna Patel, who runs the Akshanka clinic in Anand, the small town in the western state of Gujarat where Shabnum and Pushpa gave birth, said it was only her close involvement that guaranteed their safety and welfare.

"We know all the women personally. We exclude many after psychological assessments, after learning of social problems, and we make absolutely sure that the money that they earn is well spent," Patel, who pioneered the industry in India, said.

If all goes well, Pushpa and Shabnum will earn about 300,000 rupees (£4,200) with a bonus if there are twins. If they miscarry during the first term, they will get a third of the cash. "We don't release the money until we see the deeds of the house they want to buy, the bank account that has been set up or whatever," Patel said.

Dr Harsha Bhadarka, an embryologist at the clinic, said mothers spent their earnings on a house, education, to set up a business or on medical expenses. The last of these is one of the principal reasons for debt among poor Indian households, recent studies have shown.

So too is dowry. Bhardarka tries to dissuade women such as Shabnum from using money earned from surrogate pregnancies to pay a "bride price" for their daughters.

"Do you want them to have do the same as you?" she asked. "This is my family, my community, my custom," shrugged Shabnum.

Mothers at Patel's clinic – there were 190 last year, a vast increase on previous years – live in a hostel so they are not forced to do housework and are sheltered from inquisitive neighbours or drunken husbands.

One couple who used the clinic are Nikki and Bobby Bains from Ilford, Essex. Within a week they will fly to Anand to pick up their second child. Their first, Daisy, was born to a surrogate mother nearly two years ago after "a 13-year struggle".

Bobby, 46. said: "It's very difficult to find surrogates in the UK. There are lots of delays and surrogates are very rare. We had a couple of bad experiences too. So we ended up with 10 attempts, all in India. It has cost around £80,000 in medical fees.

"We call Daisy little Miss India. We are Sikh, the surrogate was Muslim, the egg donor was Hindu. So she encapsulates the whole country.

"No one can say we are exploiting anyone. They get paid the equivalent of 10 or 15 years' salary. At least you know the money goes to a good cause."

Such care is rare in the sector, say campaigners.

Instead, there is "rampant use of unethical practices", with mothers and prospective parents being exploited by unscrupulous middlemen.

The bill limits the age of surrogate mothers to 35, imposes a maximum of five pregnancies, including their own children, and makes medical insurance mandatory.

The proposed changes have provoked fierce debate in a society that remains broadly conservative. Many refuse to believe that a woman can carry a child without sexual intercourse. Few of the surrogate mothers have the full backing of their families.

"My community should be proud of me for what I'm doing, not criticise me," said Shabnum, whose parents have disowned her.

Emotional distance

The draft bill bans post-natal contact between a surrogate mother and the child she has borne.

"It is natural that when it is inside you for nine months you have some feelings. But from the beginning we are conditioned not to involve our emotions," Pushpa said. "When they take the child, those days are a bit tough. I know I have done a good thing in helping someone have a child and a happy life but I think about them a lot."

Shabnum, 26, said text messages and photos from the parents of the child to whom she had given birth made her very happy – until they tailed off.

The bill makes any such contact a criminal offence punishable by fines or imprisonment of up to two years "or something appropriate like that", Sharma said.


Jason Burke -Guardian


9/4/2012 9:00:47 AM #


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