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Why India's illegal surrogate industry needs to be regulated

Sir Robert Edwards the father of the In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) who passed away two days ago, would never have imagined the worldwide repercussions of his invention. While IVF has given children to thousands who never thought they would have children, it has also exploited thousands of women in poor countries who ve been forced to be surrogate mothers because of their poor financial situation.

Couples from Edwards native Britain along with Americans are coming in droves to India to hire women as surrogate mothers. Indian clinics offer them services at a fraction of what it costs in the UK or the USA and due to this India have been unofficially christened the Surrogacy Capital of the World . It s estimated this illegal industry is worth Rs 13033 crore. And it s an industry which is dependent on vulnerable, financially-poor women.

Lack of guidelines, a toothless Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) along with cheap labour and high demand has created this dangerous environment. India s surrogacy laws has faced some vehement criticism from many quarters including Dr Ranjana Kumari who told CBS, There are so many women who don't want to see their own child dying out of bad health, or not getting educated, not getting two meals a day. So that's why so many women are available.

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A recent case involved a woman called Premila who acted as a surrogate for an American couple last year. Eight months into her pregnancy, she suffered from convulsions caused by the pregnancy. Though doctors managed to save the baby, Premila passed away and sadly under the current laws she wasn t entitled to any sort of compensation. The American couple decided, voluntarily, to leave them $20,000. Her mother Kanku Ben Chavan said that her daughter was illiterate and she couldn t read the contract she had signed to become a surrogate and none of the family members understood what would happen if she died. It also shows how women who undergo the procedure don't truly understand or aren't explained the side-effects of being a surrogate.

Dr Ranjana Kumari says the industry needs to be regulated. The vulnerability of poverty is being exploited in this whole system -- it should be banned. It should not be allowed, she said.

However, despite the risks there are lots of women who want to be surrogates. Not all of them are selected and those that are consider themselves lucky. Many of these women use this money to put their children through college or for other needs. They see surrogacy as a mean to help their family earn money.

Very rarely do fertility clinics provide surrogate mothers with life insurance and medical care, the primary concern is the health and well-being of the baby. That s why there s a need to regulate the surrogacy.

Strict laws on the way?

About a month ago, the Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad said the government proposed to bring a bill that will regulate surrogacy and other ART-related practices in India. The bill proposed to protect the rights of infertile couples or individuals and also ensure the formation of national advisory board and maintain a national registry of ART clinics and banks, state boards and registration authorities and fix their responsibilities and duties.

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Despite the Health Minister s kind words and the passing of the ART Bill 2010 (as it s known), it will make little difference to the ground realities. The laws passed in parliament seem to have little effect on what really happens. Take for example the PCPNDT Bill 1984 (Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques) which forbids sex determination tests. Though the Bill has been around for almost 30 years sex-determination remains a rampant practice and female foeticide numbers have actually gone up over the years. And the problem is compounded by inadequate implementation, barely a handful of doctors have actually been arrested for their heinous crimes. It was only after Satyamev Jayate exposed the issue that various state governments cracked down on the illegal clinics. So pardon us if we re not too optimistic about Mr Azad s words or the bill in parliament.

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