Surrogacy has been in the news recently because of a spate of commercial surrogacies in India. The practice of commercial surrogacy, which basically means renting a womb to carry a child for someone else, is banned in most Western countries. Not in India, where a recent complicated case has brought the matter into the spotlight -- that of Manji Yamada, a Japanese child born to an Indian surrogate mother, Pritiben Mehta, and disowned by her Japanese mother-to-be. Manji’s fate now lies with the Indian courts.
Emiko Yamada looks at her 11-day-old granddaughter Manji Yamada, born to an Indian surrogate mother
According to experts Indian surrogates earn within a range of 2000-2500 euros per surrogacy. Dr Kaushal Kadam of the Rotunda clinic in Mumbai said that his sum of money can significantly change surrogate mothers' lives for the better: “Most of them belong to the middle lower-middle class of society and are doing this to improve their standard of living; to buy a better house, or put their kid in a better school. This is a good thing for them.’’
This opinion is seconded by Madhu Kishwar, a leading Indian feminist and the editor of Manushi magazine, who feels that so long as there is no abuse the matter should not be open for public speculation: “Given the fact that a lot of couples who want children can’t, it’s a need-based arrangement. I would say if it is a free contract between consenting adults it should not be a matter of breast beating.’’
Presently, there are no clear strictures regarding commercial surrogacy in India. Fearing that the country could become what she calls a “cheap-deal-hub” for surrogacy, the Women and Child Development Minister Renuka Chaudhary has called for stronger laws against the practice.
But Dr Kadam feels such fears are unfounded: “I think we would be overreacting. Commercial surrogacy is very new and within a very short span of time it has gained a lot of importance.”
The complicated case of Manji Yamada
One case that has attracted huge media attention is that of Manji Yamada. Born to an Indian surrogate, Manji's biological father is Japanese. He and his wife divorced shortly before Manji's birth. The Japanese mother-to-be disowned Manji but the father wanted to keep her. However, since Indian laws do not allow adoption by single fathers, Manji's case got caught in a legal limbo.
A recent writ petition filed in the Rajasthan high court by the Delhi-based NGO SATYA forbade Manji from being taken out of the country. Speaking about the case, Dr Sanjay Agarwal of SATYA said he feared commercial surrogacy would adversely affect adoption practices amongst childless couples: ‘’If there is no law, how did they do it? This is the main issue. In India, there are a number of abandoned children and they have to be adopted by some kind of parents.’’
But even if Manji cannot yet leave Indian shores, the Supreme Court has allowed her to be under the care of her grandmother Emiko Yamada, who has travelled to India.
Although there are no clear statistics about the exact number of surrogate mothers and babies born per year, experts estimate there could be hundreds in India. The Indian media report that the industry is poised to rake in over 6 billion dollars in the coming years.