Sep 20, 2016

    India may cut the cord to rent-a-womb industry


    AT A hostel for dozens of pregnant women, widow Sharmila Mackwan weighs up her decision to carry twins for another couple - her only ticket out of poverty - as the government moves to close India's multi-million-dollar surrogacy industry.

    She has left her own children at an orphanage for the whole nine months of her pregnancy. Her contract stipulates that she has to stay at the housing facility, attached to the hospital she will deliver at in western Gujarat state.

    She also knows the 400,000 rupees (S$8,200) she will earn for giving birth to the twins will change her family's life.

    But the authorities plan to ban the controversial commercial practice of "rent-a-womb" due to concerns women are being exploited.

    "Surrogacy should stay as otherwise I would have never been able to save so much money even if I had slogged all my life," said Ms Mackwan.

    She plans to use the money to send her sons, aged nine and 12, to school and build a small house.

    The 31-year-old is among about 2,000 mainly poor Indian women who earn a relative fortune each year carrying babies for others.

    After opening up to surrogacy in 2002, India became a world leader in the multi-million-dollar industry.

    The country tightened rules surrounding the industry in 2012 by barring gay couples and single people from using such services. Last November, the authorities told surrogacy clinics to stop accepting overseas clients.

    India's 2,000-odd clinics charge between US$20,000 (S$27,000) and US$30,000, a fraction of the price in the US and other Western countries.

    But Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj said such services were being misused.

    "It was a matter of great worry... there were instances where a girl child or disabled child has been abandoned soon after birth," she noted.