India’s surrogate business wracked by legal problems

Childless couples desperate to start a family are turning to India in search of surrogate mothers. Yet the process is risky in legal terms, with some Western couples leaving India without their newborn child.

In some parts of the country having babies on behalf of other people has become a profitable business.

Jaishree Patel is expecting her second child – only this time round it is not hers. The genetic parents live on the other side of the world. Jaishree is a surrogate mother and is carrying the baby of a childless American couple.

“I will feel sad giving up my baby, but it is their baby, and I have agreed to sell it to them,” she said. “It is a good deed. When someone is childless, giving them a child is a good deed.”

Anand, a town in Western India traditionally known more for dairy farming, is now India’s surrogacy capital. Dr. Nayna Patel has been at the forefront of this, with her clinic arranging surrogate babies for 55 foreign couples a year.

“We create an embryo – it’s an IVF procedure where the egg from the genetic mother and sperm from the genetic father is taken and an embryo is created in the lab,” Patel explained. “That embryo is put in the surrogate, because this mother is not capable of carrying the child. And after nine months, when the baby is delivered, the surrogate will hand over the baby to the couple, and in return the couple compensates the surrogate for taking her services.”

Rashida Bohra will receive $6,500 when she delivers a baby later this month. This is a large sum in rural India, and she plans to use it to fund the education of her 14-year old son, and to buy a house. However, her son wasn’t supportive.

“My son was initially very angry, he said you can’t carry someone else’s child,” Bohra recalled. “He said, ‘If you can give up this baby for money, you can give me up as well’.” I said “No, I’m doing this for you.”

Surrogate mothers spend the first eight months of their pregnancy at a care home close to the clinic. The cost is met by foreign couples, who pay $100 a month. Anthony Otebula and his wife are visiting from the United States, and may choose a surrogate here, even though America leads the world in surrogacy.

“In the United States, it is very exorbitant. The price is too much,” Otebula claimed. “And bringing it to reality is very difficult, this is what Hollywood stars can do. It costs over 100,000 dollars, but in India it is relatively affordable.”

“They want a good surrogate, sometimes affordability is the third or fourth priority, but the surrogate they want to trust,” said Dr Nayna Petal. “They want to see that the surrogate is well taken care of, is not on drugs or alcohol or smoking, which in India fortunately so far is a taboo – especially among females in a small town like Anand – and they don’t do it. So they’re very confident about that aspect also.”

Nonetheless, there have been recent cases when a baby born to a surrogate has been denied a Western passport as some Western countries do not recognize surrogacy. And with India giving citizenship only to those children whose parents are Indian, some babies have been caught in between, without papers to travel home to their biological parents. Thankfully, Indian courts have helped them out, and the government now plans to put through a law to regulate the process.