Surrogacy debate heating up in India
Syed Ali Mujtaba
The debate around surrogacy is really heating up in India with a PIL being moved in the Calcutta High Court on the issue of surrogate mothers and export of children produced by in-vitro fertilization (IVF) (test tube baby) to foreign countries.
The PIL alleged that poor women and girls have become victims of this recent trend in the country and the fertility centers are responsible for their condition.The PIL urged the High Court to direct the central and state governments for introduction of a law to protect the surrogate mother and the child and that the entire issue be investigated by the CBI.
Hearing the PIL, the division bench of Chief Justice Arun Mishra and Justice Joymalya Bagchi directed the central government to file an affidavit within eight weeks.
The petition claimed that production of children through surrogate mothers has become a booming business for fertility centres. It alleged that there was no government control on fertility centres in India and more than 1000 test-tube babies are born every year. There are about 1,000 registered and unregistered fertility centers in India.
A Kolkata-based NGO, India's Smile, had filed a PIL which cited the recent trend of fertility centres charging huge amount of money from couples who cannot, or do not want to bear children.
According to the petition, there is no law in the country to protect surrogate mothers or to stop the malpractice by fertility centres. Advocate Ajay Roy, counsel of the NGO, said the fertility centres force poor women and even girls to sell their eggs to meet the demand of the couples who cannot bear children.
The petition mentioned the incident of a 17-year-old minor girl, who reportedly died after the process of egg donation, was conducted on her by one Routanda Centre for Human Reproduction in Mumbai.
Another malpractice that the petition complained of was that many couples who cannot bear children or do not want to take the pain of bearing one, hire wombs of women for the purpose.
Fertilised eggs are placed in the 'hired' wombs of these women, who agree to go through it for money. After childbirth, the fertility centres issue a false birth certificate for the child where there is no mention of the surrogate mother. The couple then takes away the child, mostly abroad.
Notwithstanding the facts, the matter of surrogacy has become a serious issue in the country. Surrogacy in India is estimated to be a $445 million business with the country becoming a leading service provider. Each year, an estimated 25,000 foreign couples visit India for surrogacy services, resulting in more than 2,000 births.
This is because of the low cost of treatment and the ready availability of women willing to rent their wombs. In comparison to USA where surrogacy cost is about $70,000, it is a bargain in India — running anywhere from $18,000 to $30,000. A surrogate is generally paid about $5,000 to $7,000 for carrying a child to term.
Traditionally lax regulations surrounding the industry have made India a popular destination for couples from European nations and Australia, where surrogacy is not legal.
The issue shot into limelight in 2008 when a surrogate mother gave birth to a girl ‘Manji’ in Gujarat. The baby's parents, Ikufumi, 45, and his wife Yuki, 41, came to India and hired the service of a surrogate mother from Anand town in Gujarat.
However, before the baby was born the couple separated and divorced. Manji's father claimed the custody of the child but laws in India do not permit this and the issue got entangled in legal battle.
The Supreme Court finally granted Manji's custody to her 74-year-old grandmother but this was contested by an NGO named ‘Satya.’ The NGO claimed that Manji was an abandoned baby.This made the Supreme Court to ask the central government to clarify its stand on issues related to surrogacy, particularly parentage and citizenship.
There was another case in which a Norwegian woman was stranded for over two years in India with twins born by an Indian surrogate. The mandatory DNA tests showed that the children were not biologically related to her, the Norwegian embassy in India refused to issue her travel papers for the twins. The case stretched out until 2012 and when the babies eventually were allowed to travel back to the parents’ country of origin, other complications continue to haunt the lady there.
In 2010 a French gay man, who had twins through an Indian surrogate, was allowed to travel back to France, where surrogacy is illegal. He is still engaged in a court battle even as the government there took away the twins and placed them in foster care.
Even though still there is not much clarity on the issue, the surrogacy debate is really heating up in India. In December 2012, India’s Home Ministry circulated to Indian missions abroad, stipulating that gay couples, single men and women, non-married couples and couples from countries where surrogacy is illegal be prohibited from hiring a commercial surrogate in India.
As of an unspecified date, foreigners who want to hire a surrogate must be a “man and woman,” the new rule says, “[who] are duly married and the marriage should be sustained at least two years,” Indian Mission circular added.
The opinion seems to be building for having relevant laws regarding this issue that should not only protect the surrogate mothers, but also some clarity on the foreigners who come to India looking for renting wombs.
The, British and American laws forbid surrogate mothers to charge a childless couple, whereas in India there is no such law. It raises the question whether surrogate mothers should be allowed to charge a fee. Besides, what to do with the fact that there is too much money that’s changing hands in this business.
All these issues and many more issues are supposed to be addressed through ‘Assisted Reproductive Technology, Regulation Bill 2010,’ that the government has drafted and plans to bring in the Parliament. It’s high time that this bill is tabled in the Parliament, discussed and debated and then passed to become a law in the country.
Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at email@example.com