'Wombs for rent' grows in India

American Karen Kim, right, holds her son, Brady, after his delivery by a surrogate mother at a clinic in Anand, India.

TEXT OF STORY

AMY SCOTT: Commercial surrogacy -- or what's been called "wombs for rent" -- is growing in India. Most of those seeking babies are wannabe parents from the United States, Taiwan and Britain. They're willing to pay fees it might take these surrogate mothers 15 years to earn in traditional jobs.

Surrogacy is legal in India. But it raises a controversial economic question: Is it exploitation or an opportunity?

Sunita Thakur reports from Anand, India.

Sunita Thakur: Twenty-seven-year-old Nandini Patel is six months pregnant. Her two children and her husband come to visit her at this clinic for surrogate mothers. She could go home but would have to bear the taunts from her community that disapproves of surrogacy.

NANDANI PATEL (TRANSLATION): I have done this for my kids and because I have one dream -- a house. We are living in a rented place. From the money I earn as a surrogate mother I can buy a house. It's not possible for my husband to earn more as he's not educated and only earns $50 a month, so nothing is saved.

These surrogate mothers are paid $6,000 to $10,000 -- a fraction of what it costs in the United States.

The Akanksha Infertility Clinic in Anand may have been the first official clinic to start paid surrogacy but others are fast following its example.

Julie, who doesn't want her last name mentioned, is a slim, attractive woman in her mid-30s. She's tried five times to have her own baby before coming in desperation to Anand, rather than looking for a surrogate in the States.

JULIE: The legal issues in the United States are complicated, having to do with that the surrogate mother still has legal rights to that child until they sign over their parental rights at the time of the delivery. Of course, and there's the factor of costs. For some couples in the United States surrogacy can reach up to $80,000.

Not only is surrogacy cheaper with less bureaucratic tape here, but most surrogate mothers stay either in the clinic or one of the supervised homes, making it easier to monitor diet and health. This kind of control just wouldn't be possible in the States, says Julie.

JULIE: You have no idea if your surrogate mother is smoking, drinking alcohol, doing drugs. You don't know what she's doing. You have a third-party agency as a mediator between the two of you, but there's no one policing her in the sense that you don't know what's going on.

India, with English speaking doctors and nurses and an advanced medical system, already attracts thousands of patients from abroad. Invitro fertilization, paid egg donation and surrogacy are yet more in a fast-growing medical business. Dr Patel winces when she hears surrogacy described as a business.

DR. PATEL: If you say it's a business of emotions, I would say yes. It's not a business of economics and finances. There are a lot of emotions involved in this. And if a female is just doing this for business, I think this is not the right thing to do.

Critics say this is exploitation of poor women with few choices. But Priyanka Sharma, who's considering becoming a surrogate a second time, believes it's just survival in an unequal world.

Priyanka Sharma (translation): Yes, I might do this again because after all there's nothing wrong in this. We give them a baby and they give us much-needed money. It's good for them and for us.

It's still an unregulated market, but India has drafted guidelines for something that is illegal in many countries around the world: It gives women the right to receive a fee.

In Anand, this is Sunita Thakur for Marketplace.

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