When we decide to have children, as parents, we have our own aspirations for them, and desires of how we want them to grow up. As the world develops, we make choices changing with the times, that affect our children and hope that they learn from those choices which will sometimes have both, positive and negative consequences. We also look at the country we are raising our children in, and sometimes wonder if this is the right place for them. We judge the levels of safety, protection, opportunities, resources etc for them in our country. We look at freedom of speech and the freedom to make choices; not only do we judge the opportunities that they will have growing up, but also as adults.
Women's rights have been a long standing issue and point of discussion, all over the world. From education and the right to vote, to working women, equal pay and violence, women's rights have become fundamental human rights. They have become a way of life in most countries and have changed the way countries work, for the better. Having said this, there are still countries where women are denied their rights in many areas, and India is one of them.
Photo credit: Boers Commercial Surrogacy
Living in India, each woman rightly has her own opinion on various topics concerning mothers and their rights, like abortion or female infanticide and therefore the law against sex determination. Is abortion 'right' or 'wrong'? Female infanticide in India due to archaic beliefs of a certain section of the country, led to a nationwide ban on sex determination while the mother was still pregnant. How did this help? One would think that the inability to determine the sex of the child would increase the female infanticide once the child was born. Mainly due to the fact that the mother and her family were not given the right to determine the sex while pregnant. If they had been, maybe they would have made a choice to abort the baby by the legal 20 weeks (which also has its restrictions to an extent). Whether or not giving families the opportunity and right to make this decision during pregnancy, again has debating views. But is that better than giving birth and then resorting to female infanticide?
Abortion and female infanticide is not the main topic of my article. I bring up women's rights and a mother's right, due to the Surrogacy bill which has been passed, and has been a disappointing and controversial topic for women throughout India. For years, the surrogacy laws in India have been undergoing continuous revisions. It is common knowledge that surrogacy in India has been embraced by people all over the world. It has been a popular avenue undertaken by many celebrities as well. Therefore in the past, there have been no strict terms and conditions regarding the marital status and sex of the person wanting to have a child through surrogacy. Women use surrogacy as a business, becoming a surrogate birth mother only for commercial purposes. Are there opposing views on this from people? Of course. Some believe that women should be able to do whatever it is to support themselves, whereas some believe that becoming a mother just to 'sell' the baby (even if the child is going to a good family), is an unthinkable thing to do.
There are women who have no other source of income for reasons we as outsiders may not be aware of, and have therefore decided to become surrogate mothers, even though they may not already be mothers themselves. Who are we to judge? Surrogacy clinics regulate this process and if they do it right, the process is smooth ensuring that the birth mother gets what she needs and the baby is given to a good and happy family.
In November 2016, a bill was passed to abolish commercial surrogacy, at the same time imposing restrictions on who can actually be a surrogate mother and who can adopt a surrogate child. The only reason that a couple can even consider having a child through surrogacy, is if the couple is infertile; removing a couple's choice of how they want to have a child. Over and above this, unmarried women, single parents, homosexuals and couples living together, cannot consider having a child through surrogacy.
India has always been a country where the systems and processes in place are 'imperfect', for a lack of another softer word. This is not to say that other countries aren't; we have a million examples staring at us right in the face even today to prove this. But living in India, I can only look at some of the tainted systems, here. When faced with a serious, sensitive and challenging issue, we more often than not have a tendency to push aside the actual issue at hand and focus on the surrounding non-essential points, just to make things move faster and arrive at a solution. Are we addressing the main issue in this case? Surrogate clinics and agencies have not been registered till now and therefore face a lack of regulation, thereby leading to encouragement of exploitation of surrogate mothers by them. They have also been known not to provide copies of contracts to the adoptive parents. Is this something that surrogate birth mothers and adoptive parents need to suffer for?
Where does the real issue lie? Is it such that, like other systems and processes in India, this too cannot be streamlined and regulated on a deeper level, with the easiest route to a solution being taken? Why take away the rights and choices of unmarried women, single parents, childless women and homosexuals all over on how they want to have a child? How is allowing a single parent to adopt from an orphanage or agency, different from adopting a child through surrogacy? How is taking away the right of a woman regarding her source of income, a sign of fairness?
When our children grow up, I am sure we all hope that they are not denied any fundamental rights when addressing the way they want to have children of their own. Married or unmarried, married or divorced, homosexual or heterosexual, I would want my children to be able to make their own decisions, without obstructions at every corner.
Questions can be thrown at the existence and features of the Surrogacy bill from all angles. The sad part about this is that we call our country 'The Better India'. According to me, the word 'better' should signify strength, good health, compassion, happiness, freedom and most of all, development; development of our country to reach new heights that other countries have. With bills like this being passed and even considered, I worry for the future of my children in today's India.
What are your views?