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Prasoon S Majumdar
Editor, Economic Affairs - The Sunday Indian
Dean Academics (All India), The Indian Institute of Planning and Management

Of pregnant pauses...

Commercial surrogacy is still striving for its subsistence

“Looking for a healthy, educated, nice-looking lady from respectable family for surrogate motherhood. Confidentiality, good facilities and compensation guaranteed. Age should be below 30 and Hindu preferred. Send your profile to Post box...”. One might find numerous such advertisements in classified section of most of the national dailies.

Whatever might be the popular opinion, surrogacy is not a new phenomenon or concept in our economy. But then, in light of the recent incident that happened with 12-day-old Japanese baby girl, Manji Yamada, (her parents decided to split and the mother disagrees to adopt the surrogate baby) the whole issue needs to be seen with a different lens altogether.

The main area of concern is that girls as young as 21 years are settling upon this vocation. I find no fault with them as nothing more can be expected from a society and system where women live in utter poverty and misery. But the bigger damage is that this (mal)practice is spreading like wildfire, particularly within the poor and vulnerable, which might compound to a major health crisis in the near future. Repeated and frequent pregnancy, in urge of quick-money, may give rise to critical maternal health problems. According to the National Commission for Women, there are around 3000 clinics that proffer these surrogacy services and charge anything from Rs 25,000 to Rs 2.5 lakh depending upon the case. The commission further reveals that this unorganised market is worth Rs 25,000 crore and has grown by a staggering 150 per cent since the last two years. Foreigners constitute about 75 per cent of clientele that involve in this ultimate outsourcing of womb and parenting services. This can be corroborated with the fact that surrogating in India is around $35,000 cheaper, when compared with other developed economies. Sample this: In the US, this cost will go upto $50,000 and around $20,000 in UK.

Ironically, this Rs 25,000 crore industry is still unorganised and there is no law governing the same. However, there is a 126 page-long ‘legally non-binding regulations’ laid down by the ICMR but then, as always, it is largely ignored and never implemented. There are still many unanswered issues that lingers in this business. There still exists no law or regulation clarifying as to what happens if surrogate mother dies in the process of delivery or if gives birth to twins or if the clients decides to split. And to make the matter worse, surrogate mother generally only get paid for health and food in course of the pregnancy period and not for miscellaneous/indirect expenses. The fact is that it’s a de facto industry and needs to protect its workers and provide them with equal rights and allowances. It must be organised within some legal framework. Appropriate preconditions like minimum age limit, stringent health check-ups needs to be incorporated in addition to listing the requisite incentives and stringent disincentives for violations of the same. It is speculated that the health ministry is planning to draft laws addressing these issues. But then I wonder as to how many (light) years will it take to come up with that obligatory legislation(s) and will they consequently address all the possible dimensions.

In my opinion, the law needs to contain various facets covering bioethics, medical science, globalisation and plain legalities of taking decisions which involve many stakeholders whose rights need to be well protected. Or else, it will be another discontent of globalisation, where this time mothers in third world economies get marginalised and mauled.


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