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India To Crack Down on Rent-a-Womb Industry

Indian woman poorExploitation of poor women in India who "rent" their wombs to wealthy oversees parents has drawn criticism from women's groups and now the Indian government which has proposed a law to regulate the industry more closely.

Reuters is reporting that the poorly regulated surrogacy business in India is about to change as the government eyes passage of a new bill designed to make it tougher for foreigners - particularly same-sex couples and singles - to hire Indian women to carry their babies to term.

"There is a need to regulate the sector," said Dr. Sudhir Ajja of Surrogacy India, a Mumbai-based fertility bank.  "But if the new law tightens rules as suggested by the ministry of home affairs, which disallows surrogacy for same-sex couples and single parents, then it will clearly impact the industry and put off clients coming from overseas."

Ajja's clinic has produced 295 surrogate babies since it opened in 2007 - 90 percent for overseas clients and 40 percent for same-sex couples.

His is one of more than 3,000 fertility clinics currently operating throughout India where childless people come from all over the world to conceive a child through in-vitro fertilization (IVF). The embryo is then transferred into the womb of a "willing" surrogate. Couples who opt to have a baby in this way pay an average of $25,000 to $30,000 to do so in India where the cost is substantially lower than it would be in the U.S.

Naina Patel, 33, was one of those "willing" surrogates who was impregnated at the Akanksha clinic in Anand, India, where she received about 400,000 rupees ($6,500) for carrying the child to term. The wife of an auto-rickshaw driver with three children of her own, she had to live in a hostel for nine months so the clinic could monitor her health.

"I was happy to do it but it was not really out of choice because we needed the money," she told Reuters while laying in a hospital bed after delivering a baby via Caesarean section.

According to BioEdge, the Center for Social Research, a women's rights lobby group, interviewed women and parents in Mumbai and New Delhi who participated in the surrogacy industry and found many abuses.

For instance, most surrogate mothers were not aware of the contents of their signed contract, leading researchers to say "the freedom of the surrogate mother is an illusion."

If babies have defects or are the "wrong" sex, they are often chemically aborted without the surrogate's consent or knowledge.

As was the case with Naina Patel, the women are paid only one to two percent of the total fees collected by the clinic. If the pregnancy is aborted for any reason, the mothers get only half of the fee with some receiving no compensation at all.

The industry has no fixed rule about compensation and offer women no insurance for post-delivery healthcare.

"In most of these cases, the surrogate mothers are being exploited," said the Center's director Ranjana Kumari.

This has led to the introduction of the Assisted Reproductive Technologies Bill (ART) - to protect surrogates, the children and the commissioning parents. It will require all fertility clinics to be registered and monitored by a regulatory authority. Surrogates must be between the ages of 21 and 35 years old and must be provided with insurance. Notarized contracts which have been signed by the women and the commissioning parents will also be required.

The bill is expected to come before parliament next year but revised visa requirements introduced in July have already resulted in foreign same-sex couples and individuals being prohibited from surrogacy in India.

As dangerous as this can be for the surrogates, providers of these services still insist that they are giving poor women a chance for a better life.

"Legislation should be there so that this wonderful procedure can be supervised and it is being done by the right people for the right people," said Akanksha's IVF specialist Nayana Patel.

"But more bureaucracy will make it difficult for everyone. It will not only mean less commissioning parents from overseas but it will also impact surrogates, who will lose out on the only chance they have to change their lives for the better."

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