How poverty has led to a boom in the surrogacy industry in India

By Nina Steele 

My husband and I went on holiday to India in 2011 and one thing that left the most impact on me was the level of poverty. Being originally from Africa, I believed until I went to India that I had already seen the worst cases of poverty in my lifetime and that nothing could shock me anymore. Well, India proved me wrong.

Never before had I seen whole families (including newborns) living by the side of the road. I was shocked that any country could allow its citizens to live in such appalling conditions and according to this BBC article, there could be as much as 20 million homeless people living in the big cities.

With those figures in mind, I am not surprised that many poor women are now choosing to become surrogates as a way to better their lives as documented in this Daily Mail article. It is easy for us living in the West to feel a sense of outrage at reading about what looks like poor people being exploited for the benefit of well off Westerners. But until you have seen the kind of poverty these women are faced with, I think it is naïve for us to be too harsh in our judgement.

It is true that those people in the West who voice their objection at this ever growing and seemingly unethical industry have a point, but let’s not forget that unlike the West, poor countries do not have the benefit of a welfare state and so when you are poor, you are pretty much on your own. It is the same argument that people make about sweatshops. Yes those working within them need better pay and better working conditions, but the truth is that most people will give anything to be employed there because that is the biggest opportunity they will ever have in their lives.

There is no denying that the surrogacy sector needs more regulation, but until the underlying issue of poverty that leads to these desperate women seeking to become surrogates is addressed, we must not allow our Western views to prevent them from earning a much needed income that will undoubtedly make a massive difference to their lives.

Also, the focus should not just be on these poor women, but equally on the Westerners who are fuelling this boom in the first place. What makes people desperate enough to want to go to such lengths in order to have a baby? Is the system in their own countries failing them and if so, how can this be addressed? Yes we may never be able to eliminate the demand entirely but we may be able to decrease the need for such services considerably if we address the underlying issues that make Westerners turn to them in the first place.

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