As the government prepares to put an end to commercial surrogacy, what of the women who will be deprived of an income that probably sent their children to school?
Last week when the Lok Sabha passed the Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill, 2016, it effectively drove the first nail in the coffin of commercial surrogacy – often a highly exploitative business where the women who rent their wombs undergo the most physical hardships and make the least amount of money. It will still be a while before the Bill becomes law because the opposition in the Rajya Sabha is ready to push the Bill to a Select Committee but if this government has its way, commercial surrogacy will be a thing of the past.
But the fact is, they make money. And while there is rationality in terming the practice as an exploitation of poor women, it is is equally true that most women make a choice to rent their wombs. There is of course a small percentage of women doing it because of coercion by families but it is a process that is largely done with the consent of the woman. Whether Parliament has the mandate to take away what was so far a legitimate avenue of earning from thousands of women is a question that is open to debate. Even though a study by the Centre for Social Research some years back had said that in the surrogacy wheel that may be worth upto Rs 40 lakh, surrogate mothers are not paid more than Rs 3-4 lakh, it is not little money for a family subsisting on minimum wages.
“The commissioning couple gets a child; and doctors, lawyers and hospitals get paid. However, the surrogate mothers are expected to practice altruism without a single penny”
The Parliamentary standing committee for health and family welfare had in in its 102nd report in which it examined the proposed legislation made the point very succinctly. It said: “In the altruistic arrangement, the commissioning couple gets a child; and doctors, lawyers and hospitals get paid. However, the surrogate mothers are expected to practice altruism without a single penny. The Committee, therefore, finds merit in the argument that the proposed altruistic surrogacy is far removed from the ground realities. The Committee is, therefore, of the view that expecting a woman, that too, a close relative to be altruistic enough to become a surrogate and endure all hardships of the surrogacy procedure in the pregnancy period and post partum period is tantamount to a another form of exploitation.”
The committee’s concerns on this count did not find merit with the Lower House where the NDA government has a brute majority. It is however unlikely to be as much of a smooth ride in the Upper House where the committee’s contention that a “compensated” rather than altruistic surrogacy model is more fair.
The committee said: “The Committee, therefore, recommends that surrogate mother should be adequately and reasonably compensated. The quantum of compensation should be fixed keeping in mind the surrogacy procedures and other necessary expenses related to and arising out of surrogacy process. The compensation should be commensurate with the lost wages for the duration of pregnancy, medical screening and psychological counseling of surrogate; child care support or psychological counseling for surrogate mother’s own child/ children, dietary supplements and medication, maternity clothing and post delivery care.”
In making this recommendation, the Committee took into account the fact that for any woman who is going through surrogacy, there is a certain cost and certain loss of health involved. Not only will she be absent from her work, but will also be away from her husband and would not be able to look after her own children.
In brushing all of these concerns under the overwhelming carpet of “Indian ethos” is a step steeped in antiquated moralities, far removed from the poverty and social realities of 21st century India.