HYDERABAD: M Lavanya hails from Rajamundry in Andhra Pradesh. Her husband abandoned her and their six-year-old child. “I have to clear his debts. I met Sesha Sai sir from the NGO Amma. He told me about surrogacy and I delivered a baby for a foreign couple on July 7. The money I got will help clear the debts and also educate my child,” Lavanya says. She is one of the many women at Kiran Infertility Centre (KIC).
Coming from economically-weak backgrounds these women see this as an option to make their lives better. They make the deal willingly and are happy for a number of reasons. “The couple said dhanyavadalu in broken Telugu. They took good care of me,” smiles Lavanya.
However, this happiness could be shortlived if the Surrogacy Regulation Bill, 2016, is passed along with the listed provisions. The bill aims to give more legitimacy to surrogacy by not allowing unmarried couples and foreigners.
The motive is to keep a check on malpractices and exploitation of women, mainly those from the vulnerable section of society.
Dr Samit Sekhar, embryologist and in-charge of the surrogacy programme at KIC, says that this is a misconception. “This bill has been in the pipeline for a long time. There are no such vulnerabilities. I have been dealing with surrogacy cases since 2004. The ban on foreign couples started in November 2015. It said only married, heterosexual couples can opt for surrogacy. Now, a complete ban will affect not just the lives of these women, but also the health tourism industry,” he points.
With people from East Asia, US, Australia, UK and several other countries opting Indian surrogates, they constitute 50 per cent of the surrogate market.
“A foreign couple pays around `5 lakh to a surrogate, while an Indian couple around `2 lakh. The money does make a difference for the surrogates. The medical procedure and screening for a foreign couple is same as the Indian couple. Why reservations for foreign nationals?” says Samit.
Sesha Sai, founder of the NGO Amma, says that surrogacy industry is not just a financial boost. “Women take up risky jobs in order to survive. For instance sex work. Women are trafficked to places far away for a mere `10,000 or so. This can be avoided if this industry is strengthened,” he points out, adding that the women can barely survive with the `100 or so they earn in a day. But this lump sum amount can change their lives in a number of ways.
The other aspect of the bill is that“vulnerable women will be stopped from being exploited” if the regulations come into place.
Dr Shilpi Reddy, who was with the Oasis Centre for Reproductive Medicine and is currently with Birth Place, says that since the process is not streamlined, there are brokers who exploit women. “They get a share. There is no system besides Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) guidelines. Though they are transparent, they create lot of complications,” she said.
Samit stresses on streamlining the process. “A clinic has to be identified and has to work with an Assisted Reproductive Technology bank. ART Banks needs to be registered with the Indian Council for Medical Research and their guidelines. When all these things are in place, there won’t be room for exploitation of anyone,” he points out.”
“Because it is tedious, instead of regularising it, government wants to ban things. Also, the panel working on the bill has no doctors who are working with surrogates at ground level. That is why the some of the provisions are impractical,” he says.