Couples with a great desire for children fly from all over the world in order for an Indian woman to carry a baby for them. Although this may look like a bizarre science fiction story, this is a reality. After India’s market liberalization in the 1990s, India has seen a rapid emergence of the privatized health sector fit for global tourism. Fully-equipped hospitals, with English speaking, higher educated and well trained staff, are offering medical services to foreigners (and wealthy Indians) which are more expensive in more economically developed countries. Additionally, quite “conveniently”, Indian law is rather permissible towards reproductive technologies in comparison to law of most other countries. As a result of this, we have seen commercial surrogacy increasingly being offered as a service by private Indian fertility clinics and fertility doctors.
All of it is made possible through in vitro fertilization (IVF) techniques. In case of a successful pregnancy, the surrogate mother carries the child baby until it is born in return for a monetary compensation. In most cases she will stay in special hostels or homes in order to keep her labour a secret to her own community. There are more and more of destitute women taking up this profession with the hope for a better future for themselves and their families, regardless of the risks involved for their mental, physical and social health.
It may be clear that we need to talk about this within the feminist movement. Until date there has been too much silence on the phenomenon. Moreover, the discussions which are occasionally being held on the matter seem to endlessly circle around the concepts of compulsion, choice and commodification without any definite conclusions on follow-up action. So it is time for scholars, policy makers, activists, social workers and health specialists to join hands to work for the guarantee of the rights all parties involved in surrogacy. The first step to be taken is to tackle the lack of regulation of Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ARTs) in India.
The Centre for Social Research importantly did extensive research first in Surat (Gujarat) and later in Delhi and Mumbai to inquire about the realities of surrogacy. This research resulted in a set of recommendations for the National Government, the State Governments, the National Commission for Women, and the Indian Council for Medical Research. The full reports can be read here. Additionally, you can read a summary of the research done in Mumbai and Delhi here.
Lastly, we need to organize a global dialogue as commercial surrogacy illustrates that local socio-economic inequalities are related to global developments such as neo-liberalisation. Eventually, we need to move beyond discussions about ethics of commercial surrogacy and ask ourselves why, in the current world system, a certain social category of women is left with so little employment options that they are pushed into occupations which make them so vulnerable to exploitation.
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