Shame of the women who must fill West’s demand for babies

April 11th, 2012 Posted in News |

Francis Elliott  The Times
Published at 12:01AM, April 10 2012

Mattresses on the floor, a television blaring soaps, a makeshift kitchen — there’s not much in the way of furniture in the two-bedroom flat shared by five pregnant women on the outskirts of Delhi. The only decoration is framed photographs of white couples lovingly cradling newborn babies.

They are reminders, if any were needed, of why the women are spending nine months away from husbands and prying neighbours, but under the watchful eyes of a team of “counsellors”. Rihana Khan, 21, covers her face with her scarf as she explains the additional care she is taking with her second pregnancy. “The first time, with my own child, I didn’t care at all what I was eating or about lifting weights. This time I am much, much more careful. There is a lot more at stake.”

She is carrying twins on the last leg of a journey that began on the other side of the world: the clinic that has paid her to be a surrogate mother services an agency in Israel that helps gay men to become fathers. Their sperm is sent to the US, where egg donors, usually white women from South Africa or the Ukraine, are waiting. The resulting embryos are frozen and flown to India, where wombs are cheapest to rent.

The hostel where Ms Khan is staying is one of three run by Wyzax Surrogacy consultants, which currently house 18 surrogate mothers but sometimes accommodates double that number. To keep costs down, the company specialises in mass embryo transfers — 30 at a time. The bulk order also caters for an emerging trend for gay male couples who want two simultaneous surrogate pregnancies, so both men can father a child at the same time.

The women were recruited from an “untapped area”, said Jagatjeet Singh, the company’s director. The “semi-rural area” (in fact, a slum) was chosen so that the company could “sell the concept and educate the women and their families in a clean slate”, he said. For Najma Khan, 31, the numbers add up. Her husband earns 10,000 rupees a month (£130) dealing in the waste plastic collected by rag-pickers. She will receive 20 times that much and will and spend the best part of a year in relative comfort.

In the absence of any legislation — a statute on surrogacy has been in the works for two years but the Indian Government has failed to answer questions about when it will finally be passed — the risk of exploitation is clear.

Research by the Delhi-based Centre for Social Research suggests high percentages of surrogate mothers are shunned by their families when they return. A survey carried out in Gujarat, traditionally the centre of the surrogacy trade, found that fewer than 3 per cent had a copy of the surrogacy contract.

Although three quarters say they want the cash to educate their own children, researchers found cases of coercion. “We came across women who told us the decision to become surrogates was not their own. They had to agree because their husbands wanted them to. The smile was missing from the faces of the women I met at the shelter homes,” said Manasi Mishra, the lead author of a report on the trade.

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