Acton Institute Powerblog

The Surrogacy Industry And Human Trafficking

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Supporters of surrogacy tend to believe it is a win-win situation. Someone who desperately wants a child is given the opportunity to be a parent by someone who can have a baby, and is willing to do so either for money or out of benevolence (such as a sister acting as a surrogate for a sibling.) The truth is that the majority of surrogacy cases are ones where money changes hands. And when money changes hands, and the very lives of humans are at stake, things going badly awry.

In India, there is virtually no control over the surrogacy industry, and an industry it is. Gianna Toboni, a reporter for the HBO series Vice, traveled to India to investigate this industry. What she found was a lot of money, Indian women being taken advantage of and human trafficking.

Toboni and her team quickly expose the dark underside of an unregulated and dangerous industry. Women are routinely recruited from slums, made to sign contracts they can’t read, before spending a year living in a facility. Once the baby is born — via cesarean section so that doctors can maximize births per day — the surrogate is sent home, often without the full compensation she was promised.

Toboni describes surrogacy in India as “anything goes:”

The Indian government just hasn’t passed regulations that would allow this to be a safe industry. More regulations and increased effort by couples would help. It’s the responsibility of the couple to really research and see what kind of pressure their surrogate is under. I asked one woman when she was on the delivery table about to give birth if she was ever afraid she could die during childbirth. She said, “Yeah, I know that’s a real possibility.” The surrogates understand what the situation is medically for them, but it doesn’t seem like the commissioning couples do. The medical facility is good and clean, but at the same time, these women are risking their lives.

Right now, the surrogacy industry is anything goes, which is really scary. There was legislation proposed in India in 2010, it just hasn’t been passed. We didn’t see anyone receive poor medical service at the clinics we were able to visit. At the same time, there’s no limit to how many embryos can be implanted. Doctors have been known to insert more than one or two embryos to increase the chances that the woman will get pregnant without losing time or money.

What Toboni uncovered next can only be described as human trafficking. She went to meet a couple to discuss surrogacy, and she was offered something more:

Does surrogacy meet the definition of human trafficking? Decide for yourself.

Traffickers use force, fraud, or coercion to lure their victims and force them into labor or commercial sexual exploitation. They look for people who are vulnerable for a variety of reasons, including economic hardship, natural disasters, or political instability. The trauma can be so great that many may not identify themselves as victims or ask for help, even in highly public settings.

Traffickers often operate by:

Using violence or threatening the person or the person’s family members;
Harming or depriving the person of basic necessities, such as food, water, or sleep;
Making false promises of love or companionship;
Making false promises of a good job and home;
Restricting contact with friends or family;
Limiting freedom of movement;
Controlling the person’s identification documents;
Threatening deportation or law enforcement action;
Garnishing the person’s salary to pay off alleged debts; and/or
Preventing the victim from attending religious services.

Surrogacy preys on the vulnerable, puts women’s and babies health at risk, and commodifies human life.

Elise Hilton

Communications Specialist at Acton Institute. M.A. in World Religions.