Just like takeaway coffee some websites in India are advertising 'take home babies.' There are 'plans for a guaranteed baby' in the ever booming Indian surrogacy industry.
It has been more than a decade since surrogacy was legalized in India. Indians first became aware about it in 2004 when the media flashed the news of a 47-year-old grandmother who delivered twins for her own daughter in the western state of Gujarat. However, in most parts of Europe surrogacy is illegal. The German foreign office makes sure to remind its citizens about it by giving the topic a special space in visa regulations. "In case you are planning to have a child through a surrogate mother in India, please remember: Surrogacy is banned in Germany. A baby born to a surrogate mother will not have any right to a German passport," the warning reads.
Germany showed its determination to uphold this policy when it refused a couple permission to bring twins born to a surrogate mother in India to Germany in 2010. Yet for many other countries, India still remains a cheap and convenient option for having surrogate babies. "We have clients from the USA, UK, Canada, Australia, Ireland, Spain, Japan, Norway, Sweden, Israel, Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador and Cuba," says Dr. Shivani Sachdev Gour, who runs a surrogacy clinic in the Indian capital with her husband.
"Thank you India"
One of her clients, Nathan C., has just had twins. "Every day we smile and look at our babies and say thank you India," says the joyous father of a boy and a girl. But the joy comes at a price. The 44-year-old admits having paid 35 to 40,000 US dollars for the whole procedure.
After being with his boyfriend for six years, Nathan C. finally wanted to start a family. "But adopting is not easy in Australia," he says. "There are hardly any kids available." That's when the couple decided to go for surrogacy, but even that could not be done in his own country. "The law in Australia is confusing. It is illegal to pay someone for carrying your baby and medically it is very expensive." Friends suggested that he go to India after having seen media reports about surrogacy and the advice worked for him.
Nathan is amongst hundreds of applicants who approach the Surrogacy Centre India in New Delhi. "We receive around 400 to 500 applications in a month," says Dr Vishal Dutt Gour, who heads SCI Healthcare. Having worked with surrogate mothers since 2008, Dr Gour has handled some 500 deliveries. His center gets most of the inquiries through the internet "and also through medical tourism companies," he told Deutsche Welle.
India became infamous for slum-tourism after the Oscar-winning film "Slum Dog Millionaire” cast light on its "exotic" slums. Now medical-tourism is booming in the country. The SCI website claims to give its surrogates "five-star medical facilities." For prospective parents there are "surrogacy packages" that include "airport pick-up, private taxi-services, the best prices for quality accommodation, places to shop and things to do and see."
The package starts at a minimum price of 23,500 US dollars, Dr. Gour told DW. How much money goes to the surrogate mother depends, just like in any profession, on her experience. "For the surrogate mothers who are starting right now, the financial contract is worth 300,000 Indian rupees, which they get in cash." This amounts to around 5,600 US dollars - about one-fourth of the package price.
"I don't want to be too romantic"
Dr. Gour admits that most of the surrogate mothers do it to enhance their family's financial condition. Nathan C. also knows the ground reality. "I think the biggest issue is that it is a huge amount of money. It is a big opportunity for them to buy their own house or get their children a good education. I don't want to be too romantic about it and say that they are only doing it because they want to help a gay couple have children."
For Beena Devi, a surrogate mother, it is like having a regular income. The 29-year-old is in the seventh month of her pregnancy and has been receiving 12,500 INR (around 235 US dollars) every month since she conceived. Her husband is a tailor and together they are able to feed their children well. At least for another couple of months she does not have to worry about the rent, since she lives with her family in the facility provided by the SCI Healthcare. She calls it "surrogate home" and she lives there with another 15 families.
Beena Devi comes from a small village in the central state of Uttar Pradesh. Neither she nor her husband is educated, but she sends both her children to a government run school. She knows she will get a lot of money once she delivers but does not know exactly know how much. "It is written in the contract but I can't remember," she says.
It was only while signing the contract that she had met the prospective parents. Surrogate mothers in India are not allowed to stay in touch with the "clients." Making Skype calls or meeting before the baby is born is not permitted.
Beena does not know anything about their whereabouts and calls them "angrez," a general term for all white-skinned people. "They were talking in English. They said 'thank you' when they left, that's all I could understand," she says in a very naïve tone. She has not had any contact with the foreign couple in all these months and is prepared to see them only once again when she delivers their baby.
After the delivery she will have to return to her village. She says she might go in for another surrogacy and return if need be: "After all, I am doing this for my kids." Most of the surrogate mothers in India hail from lower middle-class families. There is a precondition that they must have their own children. Doctors claim this way they can keep a check on pregnancy complications, but critics are of the opinion it is only to ensure they do not get too much involved with the baby. Considering the financial strains she is under Beena knows she does not have space for a third child: "It's not mine, I will not have a problem giving it away."