Sunita (30) is expecting twins in a week’s time. But they are not hers. Sunita is a surrogate mother for a childless aged couple. An illiterate woman earning a meagre Rs.100-Rs.150 per day at a garments factory in neighbouring Gurgaon, Sunita came to know about surrogacy through a ration shop owner in her locality and readily agreed to bear a child in return for money.

“Both of us [Sunita and her husband] worked all day to earn Rs.10,000-Rs.15,000 per month and lived hand-to-mouth. We did not have enough to provide good education to our two children. Here, they offered me Rs.2.5 lakh in return for bearing a child and to take care of all my expenses till delivery. I could have never made this much money in such a short span of time. I have borne [delivery] pain for my children…. now I can bear it again for their better future,” said Sunita, one of the dozen surrogate mothers at Gurgaon’s first surrogacy home being run by Vansh Health Care.

India has emerged as the main surrogacy destination since it legalised commercial surrogacy in 2002. And it is primarily for two reasons. One, surrogacy in India is low cost. The complete package costs just one-third of the total procedure cost in the United Kingdom and other developed countries. Secondly, the legal environment here is favourable. In fact, there is no law as such to govern surrogacy in India with the Artificial Reproductive Technique (ART) Bill, 2008, still pending with Parliament.

It is no surprise then that surrogate mothers, who usually come from the lower strata of society, are exploited by being lured to carry out repeated pregnancies or forced to deliver through Caesarean section. Sometimes, they are not paid their due.

Also, there are instances when a childless couple and the child born through surrogacy get caught in legal tangles. The 2008 Baby Manji Yamada case, where the Japanese Embassy refused to issue a passport to the newborn, is one such example that earned a lot of media attention.

But with the Indian Council of Medial Research (ICMR) issuing a host of guidelines for ART clinics in 2010 and the growing demand for surrogates, a new trend of surrogacy home is now fast picking up.

Though Anand, a small district in Gujarat, has emerged as the surrogacy hub of India and surrogacy homes are mushrooming in South India as well, the trend is now on the rise in North India too.

Vansh Health Care director Prem Kumar explains the reason: “Before the ICMR guidelines, surrogacy business was mostly ruled by agents hired by the clinics. These agents lured poor, illiterate women into becoming surrogate mothers and walked away with their commission. However, with the ICMR guidelines in place and the registration of ART Banks — which provide surrogates — the situation has improved. And with it has come the trend of surrogacy homes to provide accommodation to the surrogates during pregnancy. Surrogacy contracts between the two parties have also become a norm to avoid any legal hassles later.”

Surrogate homes have increased the success rates of pregnancies and also brought in more transparency by acting as a contact point between surrogates and their clients.

“A surrogate must take a mandatory 17-day bed rest after the embryo is transferred to the womb. She needs constant care and attention. The success rate for surrogacy was just five per cent to 10 per cent earlier . But this has now changed with surrogacy homes. We provide a home-away-from-home to these surrogates and ensure their comfortable stay during the pregnancy ,” said Arveen Poonia of Vansh Health Care, which runs a 30-bed home in a multi-storey building on Sohna Road.

“At our home, we make it a point to have a contract between the surrogate and the couple to avoid legal complexities. Before the surrogate enters into an agreement, the financial details are explained to her and documented. Both the surrogate and her husband need to sign it,” said Mr. Poonia.

(The names of surrogates mentioned in the article have been changed to protect their identity)