One warm morning in October, a usually crowded junction in South Delhi was completely jammed. Close to 100 Indian women, at various stages of pregnancy, took to the streets to rally against the Indian government’s proposal a few days earlier to ban foreign couples from hiring Indian surrogates. Those protesting were surrogate mothers seeking to protect their livelihoods.
Although there is no official estimate of how many surrogates there are in India, let alone the number of surrogates for foreign couples, it is an estimated $400 million industry and growing at roughly 20 percent a year. Women who carry children for Indian couples make anywhere from 80,000 to 200,000 rupees ($1,198 to $2,995), whereas those who work for foreign couples can earn up to 500,000 rupees ($7,488).
Susheela, 28, whose last name has been withheld to protect her identity, is working as a surrogate for the second time. She has carried children for foreign couples on both occasions. Protesting outside the office of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), a regulatory body that has been entrusted with the responsibility of framing surrogacy laws in the country, Susheela looked determined. “I carried the child of an Australian couple five years ago,” she said. “Now, I am carrying this child for a German couple. And, I have not been denied payment or kept in bad conditions or been ill-treated.”
Her words bear a striking contrast to the public interest litigation filed by lawyer Jayashree Wad in India’s Supreme Court, which claims that Indian surrogates from poor and lower-middle-class households are exploited, especially by foreign couples. Stories of abuse include foreign parents neglecting to pay the surrogate or abandoning the newborn after learning of birth defects, creating, in effect, “stateless” children.
SURROGACY TOURISM BOOM
India’s first surrogacy case took place in 1978 when a woman in Calcutta agreed to carry a child for her daughter, who was incapable of bearing one. In the early 2000s, India
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