One of the most populous countries in the world at 1.1 billion people, India is a diverse and heterogeneous nation with a GNI per capita of $820 in 2006.1 Though the percent of the population living below the poverty line has fallen to 25% in 2007 due to the global success of India’s IT and service sectors2, other development indicators such as maternal mortality and education still require critical attention. Though large urban centers such as Bombay and Bangalore are quickly becoming wealthy international cities of commerce and trade, the majority of India’s rural villages lack critical public services such as primary education teachers and adequate hospitals. Day-to-day life is still a struggle for many farmers, who might earn the equivalent of $1 or $2 a day for their labor.
The status of women in these settings is deplorable. Female infanticide continues to be a regular practice, with a recent BBC documentary exposing a grandfather who buried his newborn granddaughter alive.3 Education and healthcare continue to be prioritized to sons rather than daughters, as the latter are seen as heavy burdens associated with the traditional obligations of dowry paid to the groom’s family. Domestic violence is commonplace as are dowry deaths and honor killings, all of which are not often prosecuted by law.4
Under these circumstances, it is not difficult to imagine the economic incentives of surrogate motherhood. As mentioned earlier, surrogate mothers of the Akanksha Clinic are paid $5000 to $7000 for their services, exclusive of the food, housing, computer classes, and medical attention they receive during their 9-month term. Though critics argue that this practice is exploitation of women with few choices, surrogate mothers like Priyanka Sharma see surrogacy as an opportunity for survival. She is already looking to participate in a second round. “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.”5 Other women interviewed expressed similar thoughts and concerns. By surrogate mother Nandani Patel’s calculations, the savings from her husband’s $50 per month would take decades to accumulate into enough money for a house. She, along with many other women, is planning to save the surrogacy earnings for her children’s education or other family expenditures.
Though surrogacy holds most attraction for the poorest women in India, and though surrogates do tend to be of lower-income classes, surrogacy clinics try to ensure that the compensation isn’t the primary attraction for Indian women. Dr. Nayna Patel’s website of the Akanksha Clinic stipulates certain requirements: that a potential surrogate be healthy, married, and have at least one child.6 Official statistics of who actually constitute surrogate mothers, however, are currently not available due to the lack of studies on the topic. Hypothetically however, if surrogacy in India were to expand enough to meet economies of scale, it would be the first time a fertility business would directly employ the services of thousands, even millions of women in a far from traditional method of income generation.
1 World Bank Data, http://devdata.worldbank.org/external/CPProfile.asp?PTYPE=CP&CCODE=IND
2 CIA World Factbook, https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/in.html
3 See Ashok Prasad’s BBC documentary “India’s Missing Girls”
4 Anne Firth Murray, “Violence Against Women: Domestic Abuse or Terrorism?” From Outrage to Courage, Monroe: Common Courage Press, 2008, pp. 114, 116, 118, 125
5 Quoted in interview transcript, http://marketplace.publicradio.org/display/web/2007/12/27/surrogate_mothers/
6 See http://www.ivfcharotar.com/about_us.html