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Business of renting out wombs to end soon as Indian Parliament gets ready to ban commercial surrogacy
In the past decade-and-a-half, commercial surrogacy has become a $2.3 billion industry in India. However, this big money spinner commercial business of renting out wombs has lately come under attack from women's rights groups.
Activists have alleged that these fertility clinics have become `baby factories' for the rich and the lack of regulations is resulting in exploitation of uneducated women, who end up signing contracts that they don't fully understand.

However, the greed of making around Rs 4 lakh (US$5,900 approx) for each successful pregnancy, which is a significant sum for these women with limited means, lures many into renting out their wombs.

Lately, there has been a jump in demand for surrogate mothers at this surrogacy centre in Gurugram, on the outskirts of Delhi, as the government is planning to ban commercial surrogacy in the country. These women could be among the last in the country to rent out their wombs for money as the Indian Parliament plans to pass a bill to outlaw commercial surrogacy in its next session in February, 2017.

32-year-old Razia Sultan had an embryo transferred into her uterus in the last week of December. Until 6 months ago, she had been engaged in arranging egg donors and surrogates for fertility clinics, making Rs 5,000 for each referral. But on hearing that the government might soon ban surrogacy, she decided that it was her last chance to make some money.

She told the Thomas Reuters Foundation, "My children supported my decision saying bearing a child was better than selling a kidney, which I was considering too."

For the next nine months, she will only be allowed to visit her children once a week and will only leave the fertility centre accompanied by an escort. She says, "These are small compromises. I have no other option to make this kind of money."

According to the Indian government, this ban will put a check on unethical practices. Manoj Pant from the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare says, "We are concerned about the health of the surrogate mother and that the legal and financial rights of the child are protected. India wants to be on par with developed and developing nations that do not legitimise commercial surrogacy."

India today remains one of the few handful countries in the world where women can be hired for carrying someone else's child through in-vitro fertilisation and embryo transfer.

At this Gurugram-based surrogacy centre, most women come from close by migrant colonies, and work at sweatshops.

35-year-old Ruby Kumari heard about surrogacy three years ago at the export factory where she used to work in 12-hour shifts, stiching 50 to 70 garments an hour and earning Rs 250 per day. She immediately got hooked on to the idea of earning Rs 4 lakh and agreed to rent out her womb. She says, "The day I delivered, the child's parents gifted me Rs 50,000 in addition to my fee. I came back and enrolled my daughter into an English-medium school."

Her husband also works in a garment factory and earns 2 rupees for each garment that he irons. Kumari, who's pregnant with her second surrogate child, says that her family had no future, if it were not for surrogacy.

Like Kumari, Jayalakshmi Verma, who's a 28-year-old single mother of three, wonders why it's wrong to `gift motherhood', as this work earns both respect and money. She says, "My in-laws threw me out of their house, my manager at the export factory was abusive and I was forced to quit. Here I got respect for carrying a child."

Verma says that she would have no other option but return to the export factory if surrogacy is declared illegal.

According to surrogacy law experts, if the government wants to protect the poor women from exploitation, it should regulate the sector rather than banning it. Hari Ramasubramanian from the Indian Surrogacy Law Centre says, "The surrogacy bill does not make any provision for the protection of women, assuming that banning commercial surrogacy will protect them."

(With inputs from Thomas Reuters Foundation.)

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