Via the F Word blog, I came across this practice of women in India acting as surrogates for couples who are unable to have a child and also unable to go through with IVF. The F Word acknowledges that the surrogate mothers are being well taken care of, and receive a pretty good sum of money – infact a sum that would otherwise take them many, many years to earn. However they still raise the issue of whether this is exploitation of third world women to satisfy the desires of first world couples?
For once, I quite disagree with the F Word blog, of which I am otherwise a huge admirer. I do believe that there need to be some stringent guidelines – its quite possible that this company is doing a good job, and others who jump on to the bandwagon may not. To prevent that, it is necessary to have guidelines in India. But as for the other objections, I can’t somehow buy into them. These women are making a choice which they perceive as being beneficial for their families, in the long run. And I firmly believe that choice should be left to them.
Sure, they spend 9 months away from their families. But as the article states, their families are not prevented from visiting them. And perhaps, this way the organisation running the program can look after their health better? Take a look at India’s maternal mortality rates. Many women die without access to hospitals or even a primary health care centre. These women might very well feel that the care they receive is reasonably good. I’m not saying this is the only way to do it – perhaps there is a way to monitor their health even if they live at home. But considering the heavy work many women in India do, at all times, including pregnancy, it doesn’t per se seem so terrible. Now, can such healthcare be extended to our women when they give birth to their own children? Ideally it should be, but we all know how badly the government healthcare functions. And private healthcare is not going to get into unless they can make some money.
Now comes the issue of, would they opt to do this if they didn’t need the money? Quite probably not. But then. People wouldn’t opt to do lots of things if not for the money. People wouldn’t work in hazardous conditions if not for the money. Atleast in this case, no one is being placed into anything inherently unsafe. And we are talking about Anand here, the relatively prosperous milk belt of the country, not Kalahandi. Its quite possible that these women could view it as an opportunity to improve their lives and climb up to a situation they otherwise would never get to. It may not necessarily be a choice between this and dire poverty. Even if it were, should we call it exploitation? I don’t really know. Hundreds of women enter the flesh trade every year due to dire poverty. The choices may not be what they seem to a Western eye.
And whether the women will feel terrible giving up the child? Yes, quite possible. On the other hand, none of them are newbies who don’t know what it feels like to have a child. Only women who have had children before are chosen. Presumably, they understand the pain and joy of giving birth to a child, and can decide whether or not they can do it for someone else. Indian history and culture is infact replete with stories of one mother handing over her child to another, and for completely altruistic reasons. Infact, in my parents’ generation, it was not at all uncommon for childless couples to “borrow” a child from a sibling. Very different ofcourse from carrying a child for a stranger, but what I’m saying is, the concept of surrogacy is not entirely new to India. Which probably explains why some of the women quoted in the story also see it as a good deed they are doing.
I’m not saying this is the way to lift the third world out of poverty. No single thing is. Instead, everywhere women (and men) are doing things they can to lift themselves out of the situations they find themselves in. I don’t think we should get into this mindset that we know better than them what implications their choices have. If anything – we should work on the other end – ensuring safety; The rest – I believe these women, (even in cases where they come from fairly poor families) are capable of thinking it out for themselves.