India's $400 million fertility tourism industry provides surrogate wombs to foreign families but women's rights advocates and government officials worry about the exploitation of surrogate mothers.
Dressed in a green surgical gown and cap, British restaurateur Rekha Patel cradled her newborn daughter at the Akanksha clinic in northwestern India as her husband Daniel smiled warmly, peering in through a glass door.
"I can't believe we have our own child at last," said Patel, 42, gazing in wonderment at five-day-old Gabrielle.
"We are really grateful to our surrogate mother who managed to get pregnant and kept our little daughter healthy. She gave nine months of her life to give us a child."
It is the perfect promotion for India's booming surrogacy industry that sees thousands of infertile couples, many from overseas, hiring local women to carry their embryos through to birth.
But a debate over whether the unregulated industry exploits poor women prompted authorities to draft a law that could make it tougher for foreigners seeking babies made in India.
"There is a need to regulate the sector," said Dr. Sudhir Ajja of Surrogacy India, a Mumbai-based fertility bank that has produced 295 surrogate babies – 90 percent for overseas clients and 40 percent for same-sex couples – since it opened in 2007.
"But if the new law tightens rules as suggested by the ministry of home affairs, which disallows surrogacy for same-sex couples and single parents, then it will clearly impact the industry and put off clients coming from overseas."
BIRTH OF A MARKET
India opened up to commercial surrogacy in 2002. It is among just a handful of countries – including Georgia, Russia, Thailand, and Ukraine – and a few U.S. states where women can be paid to carry another's genetic child.
The low-cost technology, skilled doctors, scant bureaucracy, and a plentiful supply of surrogates have made India a preferred destination for fertility tourism, attracting nationals from Britain, the United States, Australia, and Japan, to name a few.