Smiles and some significant bellies welcome you when you climb the stairs of the ‘surrogacy hostel’ that houses 21 women in various stages of pregnancy waiting to deliver the ‘tenant’ child. A short drive off the Gurugram highway, the hostel in a small residential colony in this suburban town adjoining New Delhi is run by an organisation promising a ‘complete solution to surrogacy needs’, including ‘surrogate care’, in the National Capital Region (NCR). In the large common area, the women, some with young children tucked by their side, sit around watching television.
Most of them are unaware that the government introduced a bill in the Lok Sabha banning commercial surrogacy three days ago on November 21. Amongst them is Jira, who is 34 weeks pregnant. Jira is carrying a baby for a childless couple (they discovered a year ago that the wife didn’t have a uterus) who found her through the agency and agreed to pay Rs 6,85,000 for a healthy child. While she’ll receive Rs 3 lakh in installments during her pregnancy and after the delivery, the rest would be used by the agency for managing the hostel and providing medical care and food. She can visit her family for a week after the first trimester; and her husband can visit her whenever he wants. Her younger child lives with her in the hostel. “I’m just renting my womb for Rs 3 lakh to a woman who needs a child,” says Jira, who came from Champaran in Bihar to Delhi six years ago with her husband. They have two children, aged eight and two-and-a-half years old.
This is Jira’s second time as a surrogate mother. She needed the money then, and she needs it now. “My brother-in-law was diagnosed with cancer seven years back. We took a big loan for his treatment. But he died and we are heavily in debt. We moved to Delhi to find work in factories,” she says. “A lady at my last workplace told me about surrogacy and the money it provided. We were counselled by the doctors who confirmed that no intercourse would be involved as they will only inject an egg into me.”
People such as Jira and the couple will be impacted by the Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill, 2016. It is the first step towards preventing the exploitation of poor women by prohibiting commercial surrogacy, a thriving industry that sees 2,000 cases in Delhi/NCR alone. As per the bill, Indian heterosexual couples who are legally married for at least five years can try for surrogacy after they produce necessary documents to confirm that they cannot reproduce/procreate. The surrogacy will only be possible with a relative who is married, has a child and has never been a surrogate before. While there is a need to regulate the industry, some believe that the ban would be unfair on both sides—to the surrogate mother and the parents-to-be.
“Commercial surrogacy ban is a way to sideline women who do not have a uterus,” says Dr Abha Majumdar, director and head of IVF and Human Reproduction at Ganga Ram Hospital, New Delhi. “The law should be such that it safeguards the women who bear children for others; it shouldn’t call them or the child illegal. With this law we are risking women, who cannot have children, their homes. Surrogacy is the only option for those who marry into families that want them to bear children.” The introduction of the new law will be helpful only to married couples who can successfully convince a relative to be a surrogate for them. It does not provide any solutions for single parents, homosexuals, divorced or couples who live together. “If the law is introduced, surrogates will still bear children commercially, but there will be no guarantee of them getting paid,” warns Majumdar. “We should instead look at removing the middleman, safeguard the surrogate and provide better health facilities.”