The childless UK couples considering Indian surrogates

By Poonam Taneja
BBC Asian Network

Image caption,
Nikki Bains now has two children after using two surrogates in India

Indian doctors are increasingly coming to the UK to encourage childless British couples to use their surrogacy programmes, in a country where the multi-million business remains unregulated.

In a semi-detached house in London, a group of people are mingling near a kitchen.

On the surface, it could be any suburban dinner party. Drinks are served and plates of samosas and onion bhajjis are being offered.

However, these couples are here not to socialise but to find out more about surrogacy in India.

The guest of honour at this gathering is Dr Kaushal Kadam, who has been invited by Bobbi and Nikki Bains to share her expertise.

Bobbi and Nikki's two children, three-year-old Daisy and one-year-old Dhillon were born to Indian surrogates after several attempts at fertility treatment in the UK failed.

"At the beginning it was turmoil because we weren't getting anywhere, no babies," Nikki says.

"Then all of a sudden it all changed for us, surrogacy, two beautiful babies.

"Now we're out there to help all other couples that can't have babies and are waiting to hold their babies in their arms."

Dr Kadam is the medical director of an infertility clinic in Mumbai, and in the last year has delivered 18 babies born to Indian women for foreign couples, mainly from the UK, USA and Canada. Her clinic follows guidelines set out on surrogacy by the ICMR (Indian Council of Medical Research).

She says demand is growing: "There are at least six to seven couples visiting my clinic a month for surrogacy, from overseas.

"I'm here just to inform them about the gestational surrogacy programme that we conduct in our clinic, answer a few doubts, a few queries and apprehensions that the couples may have and clear them so they are better prepared to visit India."

She is one of a number of Indian infertility doctors who regularly visit the UK to provide information about surrogacy.

Dr Kadam is not providing any clinical treatment and is not being paid for her informal presentation.

Many of the eight or so couples at the gathering have already investigated the possibility of international surrogacy. For many it is not a decision that they are taking lightly.

One married couple, who did not want to be identified, travelled to Mumbai for one failed attempt at surrogacy earlier in the year.

Like many of the couples, they are professionals in their 30s and 40s desperate to start a family after years of struggling with infertility.

"The best option for us was to look at India.

"There was more opportunity for us in terms of surrogacy, cost was about right and the time was right as well because as a couple we're getting older and we want to progress things as quickly as possible," the husband says.

His wife has concerns about using a British woman as a surrogate.

Image caption,
Dr Kaushal Kadam has delivered 18 babies in the last year to non-Indian parents

"We looked into the UK, but the systems didn't seem as robust, in the sense that sometimes you could read in the papers about surrogates not wanting to fulfil their obligations and keeping the baby at the end of the term."

In the UK surrogacy is strongly regulated, but in India the rules are more relaxed, as although legislation governing the country's mushrooming surrogacy industry has been drafted, it is yet to become law.

A surrogacy package at a clinic in India costs between £13,000 and £20,000. An Indian woman can expect to be paid between £3,000 and £5,000 for acting as a surrogate mother for a foreign couple.

For many it's a life changing sum of money and an opportunity to escape poverty.

During their pregnancy the women are housed in a special hostel and receive regular health checks.

But in a country with one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world, are these women being exploited?

"I really don't agree with this," says Dr Kadam.

"I think it's a win-win situation.

"There is no exploitation, these surrogates are in fact benefiting.

"I see so many of them either start a small business or they have bought a better home to live in.

"Some have spent money on education for their children and the couple are so happy they've received a baby," she says.

Dr Jackson Kirkman-Brown, senior lecturer in human reproductive biology in the School of Clinical and Experimental Medicine at the University of Birmingham, is concerned that widely unregulated surrogacy industries could pose health risks.

"They're entering into, very often unregulated healthcare. There isn't the regulatory framework governing what they're doing.

"So really they're going and doing something pot-luck, often on the basis of a cheaper price or something being easier," he says.

There are not only medical warnings but according to leading surrogacy lawyer Natalie Gamble, legal issues too.

"The first hurdle is immigration, and in many cases the conflicting laws between the UK and India will mean that the child is born stateless," she says.

"The application for a discretionary passport can be long and difficult and parents should expect to be stuck in India for several months following the birth.

"They will also need to apply for a parental order to be recognised as the parents in the UK.

"The application has to be made within six months of the birth and, if the arrangement is a commercial one, will be heard in the High Court.

"There is an increasing track record of applications like this being granted, but the court will look at every case carefully and individually," she says.

Despite such warnings, many of the couples at Dr Kadam's presentation say they are seriously considering surrogacy in India.

One woman tells me: "I'm here to be a mother.

"I've tried for many years to create a family and there's just something in me that can't let go.

"Sometimes I wish the feelings would go away but they don't.

"It's just this real desire to put the meaning into my life.

"I've got a wonderful partner but I just need to be a mother and jump into puddles again, to do something with my love."

Asian Network Reports are broadcast at 12:30 BST weekdays.

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