Babies for sale cheap

Now for Julie Bindel’s article on Gujarat surrogacy clinics.

Having heard many stories about how commonplace outsourcing pregnancy and reproduction is, I am in India to investigate the country’s “rent-a-womb” industry.

As a feminist campaigner against sexual abuse of women, and in particular the sex trade, I feel sick at the idea of wombs for rent. Sitting in the clinic, seeing smartly dressed women come in to access fertility services, all I could think about was how desperate a woman must be to carry a child for money. I know from other campaigners against womb trafficking that many surrogates are coerced by abusive husbands and pimps.

In fact how could that not be the case? We know abusive husbands and pimps exist in India, and how would they not coerce the women in their power to turn their ability to gestate into piles of cash?

I decided to visit four clinics in Gujarat,one of India’s most religious states – known as the country’s surrogacy capital – posing as a woman interested in hiring a surrogate and egg donor to gain access to those providing the services. I wanted to be able to speak from experience about the human rights abuses that result from the practice, and to become more involved in the international campaign to abolish it.

I was told it is common practice to plant embryos in two or more surrogates and to perform abortions if more than one pregnancy takes hold. Similarly, if several embryos are implanted in one surrogate and a multiple pregnancy occurs, unwanted foetuses will often be aborted.

Approximately 12,000 foreigners come to India each year to hire surrogates, many of them from the UK.

Why India? Why not hire surrogates at home?

Because India has a lot of poor people, that’s why. Because the price is a fifth of what it would be at home. Because it’s a perfect setup for rich pale people to exploit very poor brown women.

I have heard several stories of women being forced or coerced into surrogacy by husbands or even pimps, and ask Mehta if she is aware of this happening.

“Without the husbands’ [of the surrogates] consent we don’t do surrogacy. We don’t give all the money before the delivery. We take from you but we hand it over to her once she hands over the child to you. We give her in instalments so she will also take care she will deliver the baby no problem.”

Mehta said they try to avoid the women forming bonds with the baby by giving them drugs to stop lactation. “She will not produce milk at all and she will not be shown the baby.”

Some of the women sell their breast milk, extracted by a pump at the clinic and delivered to the commissioning parents. Others agree to be paid to directly breastfeed the baby, despite the likelihood of bonding.

Ah well, the market will sort all that out.

Amin hands me some photographs of potential surrogates, while explaining the fees for egg donation – “caucasian donors £2,500 to £3,000, Indian donor £1,000”.

The surrogates remain at home during their pregnancy and are monitored daily. “I don’t allow the women to live in surrogacy house,” says Amin. “The husband is the better watchman I feel. He is involved in the programme – he knows how to take care of his woman. Outside, if she’s alone she will have many friends and [it will be] difficult for me to control. Even if I put them in a hostel I never know what is going on there.”

I ask if the women ever experience domestic violence during pregnancy.

“Rarely, but we have seen it,” says Amin. “Last year we heard a surrogate’s husband was beating her. She came crying to us so we put her up. After the child was born we sent her back.”

According to Amin, the surrogates she hires are middle class or upper class. “Recently we [hired] three Brahmin [a high caste] girls, all educated. We have about 25% of that class. About 85% [of all surrogates] are quite well off.” I suspect this is a lie. Research by pressure group Stop Surrogacy Now shows that, aside from rare cases, it is the poorest women from the lowest castes who become surrogate mothers.

But this isn’t exploitation, at all. How could anyone possibly think it is?


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