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Dan Schlanger

Peter Klein

Writer / Researcher
Fabian Dawson

Canada / in-development
Color / Stereo / English / 42 minutes

This one-hour film shows the compelling stories of young Indian women both in Canada and India whose desperation to have a baby has led to a fledgling but thriving womb renting industry in India.

Smita Pandya, is expecting her third child. Unlike the other two, she is being paid to carry this one.

"Why not, if it helps me give my own children a better future?" asked the housewife. Navina Patel, 26, her two sisters and her sister-in-law have all taken to bearing children as a means to enhance their living standards. "My mother-in-law suggested it to me. We needed to buy a good house," said Navina. Three months ago, Navina’s sister-in-law became a surrogate mother of twins. "We now have a good house to live in" she adds. Shilpa, 32, one of her sisters said: "Only my husband knows about it. I feel it is noble as it will bring happiness into a couple’s life."

The women are part of womb renting industry that has spawned in the rural hinterland of Anand in India’s state of Gujarat. Primarily catering to childless Indian couples living in Canada, Britain, Australia and the United States, the professional surrogates get paid between one and two lakh rupees (about C$2,500 and C$5,000) to improve their poor and landless lives.

Their champion is gynecologist Dr Nayna Patel, who has been practicing In-Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) for seven years now in her hamlet of hope. The gynecologist who has been tending to numerous "clients" at her hospital in Anand told the Press Trust of India, "women preferring to become surrogate mothers are briefed right from the start that they will have to hand over the child to the childless couple soon after the delivery and are repeatedly told this whenever examined during pregnancy."

Dr. Patel, director of the Akanksha Infertility Clinic knows what she is talking about.

She was a key player in the so called "grandmother case", where a woman delivered her daughter’s twins in 2004.

Last month she paraded about a dozen professional surrogates from Anand in front of Indian media as she pushed for acceptance for professional surrogacy. Another lucrative source of income for the women in Anand is egg donations.

"We earn anywhere up to five thousand rupees (about C$130) in 20 days’ time. Where will we earn money so quickly without doing anything immoral," said a woman identified as Geeta.

As news spreads and egg donors get introduced by their neighbors and relatives, hesitation about surrogacy is dissipating, reported Indian media.

In fact, Geeta is willing to reverse a family planning operation to chance an earning as a surrogate mother.

"Women without uterus and underdeveloped uterus or medical conditions are forced to go for surrogacy," says Dr Mona Bhatt, a gynecologist in Vadodara. Doctors say 70 perent of the clients are Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) who find their efforts to get a child cheaper in India.

"Most NRIs prefer surrogate mothers from India as it is easier to find one. An agency abroad may charge about US$30,000 and the surrogate mother is given another US$15,000. Moreover the surrogate also enjoys certain rights over the baby," said Dr Patel.

The surrogate mother and egg donation industry is also catching on in other parts of India. The Pune Fertility Centre in Shivajinagar recently announced a ‘surrogacy programme’ and invited ‘women in the 25-30 years age group’ to enroll as members. Chief IVF consultant and endoscopist at Ruby Hall Clinic Sunita Tandulwadkar said they had been receiving several queries. "It is legal in India," she said. While wombs for rent in India may be legal, in Canada it is a different story.

The Assisted Human Reproduction (AHR) Act states that no payment can be made to a sperm or egg donor for their donation nor can payment be given to a woman providing surrogacy services. An official with British Columbia’s Adoption Agency said that Canada and India are among the signatory-countries of the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Cooperation in respect of Inter-country Adoption which aims to stops trafficking of children and illegal adoptions. She, however, said that surrogacy is not specifically covered by the convention.

Kathleen Walker, a Vancouver-based family lawyer said surrogate motherhood is "technically a no-no" in Canada. "You can’t pay for anything and if I understand it, not even for medical expenses. It’s a very tough law.” Walker said if all the activities related to the contract are done in India, the general rule in law would say that Canada has no jurisdiction. "But if negotiations are initiated or done from Canada, the law will come into play," she said.