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outsourcing motherhood to India

October 8, 2009

I noticed this article about outsourcing surrogate motherhood to India, and wondered whether this practice is indeed exploitative toward the poor, or whether this traffic in bearing children is morally ‘better’ than selling a kidney to pay for daily life.

Surrogacy itself is often maligned in India’s multireligious society as a peculiar form of prostitution. Fearing social censure, many surrogates hide their pregnancies from relatives and friends by moving away temporarily on the pretext of having secured a job elsewhere. What’s more, some doctors prefer to separate the surrogate from her family to insure she gets the proper nourishment, while avoiding risks to the fetus such as sexually transmitted diseases and secondhand cigarette smoke. The family is allowed to visit her in her quarters, but even so it can be a lonely time for the woman.

Still, it’s a way to raise money in sometimes desperate circumstances. Take Sudha, a 25-year-old mother of two who now works as a maid in Chennai earning $20 a month. She owes moneylenders about $2,700, borrowed to pay bribes to secure a government job as a streetsweeper, which never materialized. A neighbor told her she could earn about $2,000 at a local clinic by bearing a child for an infertile couple. She gave birth in July 2008 — and is haunted by the memory. “Whenever I have free time and I lie down, I think about the child. I pray that the child is safe and happy and is taken care of well.”

This article, of course, comes on the heels of my friend Jeremy Kahn’s recent piece on how India is falling behind other countries such as Bangladesh in meeting its UN Millenium Development Goal to reduce infant mortality by 2/3rd by 2015:

The report said that India accounts for over 20% of children’s deaths worldwide from preventable diseases, a larger number than any other country. Each year, some 400,000 babies die within 24 hours of being born in India. In total, two million children die each year in this country before reaching their fifth birthdays. And while India has made progress in combating child mortality in recent years, its neonatal mortality rate is actually still worse than those of its poorer neighbors, like Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

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