Page last updated at 23:53 GMT, Sunday, 12 October 2008 00:53 UK

India's surrogate mother industry

By Poonam Taneja
BBC News, Anand, Gujarat

Pregnant surrogate mothers in Gujarat
Surrogate mothers while away the time in a hostel in Anand

Childless Asian couples from Britain are increasingly travelling to India to pay women to act as surrogate mothers for them.

In a country where there are no laws surrounding surrogacy, the industry has become a multi-million dollar business.

One couple who made the journey to India are 44-year-old Bobby and his partner, Nikki Bains, 43, from the English town of Ilford.

Their three-month-old daughter, Daisy, was conceived at the Rotunda clinic in Mumbai (Bombay).

A donor egg was fertilised with Bobby's sperm. The embryo was then implanted into a surrogate - a woman the couple have never met.

The couple had several attempts at fertility treatment in the UK. Bobby says they were forced to widen their search for a surrogate to India because of a shortage of available surrogates in Britain.

Ethical minefield

"Before 2000, we were looking for a surrogate in the UK. None came about, actually one or two did but they were bad apples. I'm sure there are some good surrogates here but the ones we came across were not too good. That's why we went to India," says Bobby.

Pregnant surrogate mother in Gujarat
Are (surrogate mothers) murdering someone? No. Are they doing a robbery? No. Are they doing some immoral act? No.
Dr Nayna Patel, manager of Akanksha clinic, Gujarat

Surrogacy in Britain is a legal and ethical minefield. The industry is strongly regulated and there are strict laws governing it.

But infertile Asian couples in Britain face even more difficulties. Jackson Kirkman-Brown is a scientist at the assisted conception unit at a women's hospital in the central British city of Birmingham.

"In the Asian community the number of eggs or sperm that are available from donors is very, very scarce. The likelihood of an Asian couple immediately receiving either donor sperm or a donor egg is very low.

"In the whole of the UK there are only two Asian (sperm) donors that we are aware of that match onto the general Asian background."

So the shortage of Asian eggs, sperm and surrogates is driving couples like Bobby and Nikki Bains to travel to India for help. It's a trend consultant obstetrician Massoud Afnan is witnessing.

"Couples, Asian and others, are going abroad to have their fertility treatment. It is getting increasingly popular. I can see this sort of reproductive tourism happening more and more."

The Rotunda clinic where baby Daisy was conceived is tucked away in a side street of an exclusive Mumbai suburb.

The clinic's director is Dr Gautam Allapadia, a leading infertility specialist. He spelled out clearly why his clinic was so successful with foreign couples.

Booming trade

"The costs are substantially less than they would spend in developed countries like the USA and the UK. There is no paper work involved, the couples don't have to go through any lawyers, it's a clean issue, and there is no litigation."

Bobby and his partner, Nikki Bains
More and more childless couples in the UK are turning to India

Having a baby at Dr Allapadia's clinic will cost you around 13,000 ($22,400). Each surrogate will be paid between 2,500 and 3,500. That's the equivalent of 10 years salary for some of these women.

I travelled to Anand in the western state of Gujarat. The town is at the forefront of India's booming trade in reproductive tourism.

In the last four years, this dairy community of 150,000 people has produced more surrogate babies than any other in the country.

That surrogacy has become so popular in the town is due largely to the success of the Akanksha clinic run by Dr Nayna Patel.

Last year she helped more than a hundred couples through her surrogacy programme. She expects that figure to rise by 40% this year.

There are currently more than 20 pregnant surrogate mothers, carrying babies for overseas couples. So how does Dr Patel choose them?

"We first see their age, the medical history, their blood work and their obstetric history especially. If they have one caesarean we do take them but if it's more than one, we do not. If their health is not good we don't take them."

Driving force

Although there is no shortage of women willing to be surrogates in Anand, Dr Patel says that in this socially conservative part of India there is still a stigma attached to it.

Three-month-old Daisy
Having babies on behalf of other people is a profitable business in India

"I always used to tell them, people who are criticising or ridiculing them. I would say are they doing anything wrong? Are they murdering someone? No. Are they doing a robbery? No. Are they doing some immoral act? No. Then what are they doing? They are doing a good act by giving a baby to someone."

But is it worth the risk in a country with has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world?

Hasu Matu, 29, is a widow with a young son. She's six months pregnant with a child for an American couple. She says the money she makes from surrogacy will allow her to educate her son and buy a house.

Money is clearly the driving force behind the industry. But is surrogacy in India spiralling out of control?

It's a question the government has been forced to consider. Laws regulating the surrogacy industry are expected to be introduced later this year.

You can listen to Poonam Taneja's 30 minute radio report on this at 1830 BST (1730 GMT) on Monday, 13 October on the BBC's Asian Network Report.

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