An investigation by the London Sunday Telegraph has finally begun to give an idea of the scale of the surrogacy industry in India. According to a senior official in India’s health department, there are between 600 and 1000 IVF clinics – all operating without any regulation. Turnover in the industry is thought to be about US$2.3 billion.
But Dr Radhey Sharma, of the Indian Council of Medical Research, says, “Nobody in India actually knows for sure how many babies are born through these commercial enterprises and how many places are involved.” The best guess is that 2,000 babies were born to surrogate mothers – half of them for foreigners, mostly from Britain.
Dr Sharma, who chairs a committee which is drafting regulations for the IVF industry, said: “Nobody could have envisaged the sharp increase in Indian surrogacy for foreigners and we accept this will not slow down, but in fact get more popular.”
Some doctors told the Telegraph that there are British women who use surrogates to avoid being pregnant and childbirth, raising fears of a “wombs to rent” culture. At some clinics half of the clients are homosexuals. “Gay people are just so keen and so desperate to have a family,” said the director of Surrogacy Centre India, in New Delhi. “Many of the people say that as soon as they realised they were gay, the saddest thing was that they knew they would never have children.”
Award-winning novelist Kishwar Desai, a journalist who is the wife of British economist Lord Meghnad Desai, describes the surrogacy industry in her latest novel Origins of Love. After backgrounding herself, she probably knows as much as anyone about the darker side of surrogacy. She spoke about it in an interview with The Guardian this week:
“There are hospitals where women are kept for the whole nine months while they carry someone else's child. There are good stories, where the surrogate is well looked after, but I would like to make people aware of the sheer exploitation of it, the fact that these women are extremely poor. They are carrying someone's child for two or three thousand pounds. They may do this three or four times. They may be forced to have a caesarean.”
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