The police recently rescued 47 surrogate mothers from an unregistered fertility clinic in Banjara Hills area of Hyderabad. The women were in various stages of pregnancy and were not allowed to go outside till delivery, said Task Force (central zone) Inspector S Srinivas Rao.
“We have informed the district health officials who visited the centre along with doctors and they seized the available records,” he said. The facility was charging Rs 15-20 lakh from couples who wanted to avail of surrogacy, but only paying Rs 2.5-3.5 lakh to women who were renting out their wombs.
The clinic also did not keep any medical records of the biological parents or surrogate mothers. The women are to be shifted to government hospitals. The clinic was not registered with the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), which is a legal requirement for any clinic offering surrogacy.
The Telangana State department has said that it will crack down on surrogacy clinics across the region. Health Minister C Laxma Reddy is also to hold a review meeting to look at the Surrogacy Regulation Bill-2016, and to devise an action plan for implementing surrogacy rules. The state says that it will set up an ‘appropriate authority’ to review centers and clinics which apply for approval to operate.
The Surrogacy Bill, which has not been passed by the cabinet yet, proposes to abolish commercial surrogacy, and will only allow altruistic surrogacy, after the couple has proven their infertility.
Commercial surrogacy has been legal in India since 2002, and this led to foreigners travelling to the country to avail of surrogacy, and a multi-billion dollar booming industry, according to CII. The majority of women who choose to become surrogates are poor, illiterate and not completely aware of the contract they sign with illegal clinics.
Exploiting surrogate mothers, abandoning a surrogate child, or importing a human embryo or gametes for surrogacy will be an offence, according to the Surrogacy Bill.
The bill has been met with backlash, because it also bans single parents, homosexuals and live-in couples from becoming parents through surrogacy. Childless, or unmarried women will not be allowed to become surrogates according to the bill.
So while the bill saves women from exploitation, it also opens up a Pandora’s box of other contentious issues. It dictates who can and who cannot be a parent, and doesn’t really have a means to make sure that women presented as altruistic volunteers aren’t being quietly paid off.
Child’s rights activist Achyuta Rao from the Hyderabad based NGO, Balala Hakkula Sangham, tells SheThePeople.TV that illegal clinics make child producing machines out of these women.
“What’s shocking is that women who can have their own children are renting surrogates to escape labour pains,” he says. “Commercial surrogacy is a violation of a child’s and women’s rights, as it takes away the child’s right to grow with the natural mother,” he says. He is ambivalent about the Surrogacy Bill since it does not fully address the complexity of surrogacy.
Bollywood celebrity Farah Khan worries that banning commercial surrogacy, could create a black market for it. “I’m not saying we shouldn’t regulate surrogacy. Of course, prevent women from exploitation. But by doing this you’re creating an alternate like bootlegging. My worry is that this will cause it to go underground. It will still happen, but in a dangerous way,” she says.