Georgia could be the future of India’s $375m surrogacy industry

  • India’s surrogacy market was estimated at $375 million before it was banned.
  • As people look abroad, the former Soviet state of Georgia emerges as a favorite option.
  • Insider spoke to a doctor, an expectant parent and Indian experts who were looking for surrogates there.

Thousands of aspiring parents around the world have turned to Dr. Nayana Patel for help.

She has delivered over 1,000 surrogate babies at Akanksha Clinic in Anand, Western India. Her prominence within Indian surrogacy led to her being interviewed on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” in 2006.

But she told Insider she hasn’t had a new job since February. The future of an industry she helped build could lie 2,000 miles away.

Photo of a woman sitting in a chair with her arms crossed in front

Dr Nayana Patel said it was “natural” for Indian couples to seek surrogate mothers in Georgia, following India’s ban on commercial surrogacy.

The Akanksha Clinic

A law banning commercial surrogacy, passed by India’s parliament in December, has upended the industry in a country that for years was a surrogacy capital. Surrogacy in India was a $375 million business spread across 3,000 clinics before the ban, estimated doctors, researchers and legal experts who spoke with Insider.

That’s almost a tenth of what Global Markets Insights estimates to be a $4 billion global market that’s expected to grow by almost a third by 2027.

But the ban is pushing the Indian part of that market – which relies on affluent Indians at a time when one in six urban couples are struggling with infertility – overseas. The former Soviet republic of Georgia, one of the few countries where commercial surrogacy is legal and relatively inexpensive, is becoming a preferred destination.

Patel acknowledges this means she could soon be flying to Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, to take on cases. “It is natural that Indian couples now want to go there for surrogacy,” she said. “And the clinics there will bring in Indian experts like me or hire local doctors.”

ARTbaby, whose motto is “Your baby, our ART”, is a surrogacy center headquartered in New Delhi offering its Tbilisi facility as an “alternative” to Indians. When asked how it is adapting its business in the wake of the ban, another Indian service provider, Vinsfertility, highlighted its ability to offer surrogacy services in other countries, specifically mentioning Georgia. , who, in a statement to Insider, offered a “guaranteed surrogacy program.”

Promises work.

Five months ago, Ravinder Singh couldn’t have put Georgia on a map, he joked to Insider in an interview. Since India’s ban, he and his wife, Meena – who has suffered three miscarriages – have spent nights poring over surrogacy options outside the country.

They settled in Georgia, and in February they flew to Tbilisi to visit different centers. The couple, who have still not told most of their conservative family members that they are considering surrogacy, have told relatives they are going on vacation.

Once there, they discovered that they were not alone. “In every center we visited, we met or heard of other Indian couples interested in surrogacy,” Singh said. India was the 13th largest source of visitors to Georgia in the first four months of 2022, up from 15th in 2019, according to Georgian government data – although it’s unclear how many of those travelers were exploring travel options. surrogate motherhood.

India’s ban follows a decade-long debate in the country over the ethics of allowing people to pay women to bear their children.

Before the ban, each surrogacy in the country cost around $20,000, said Amit Karkhanis, a lawyer from Mumbai who specializes in contracts between couples and surrogates. In 2012, researchers at The Lancet estimated that around 25,000 children were born each year to surrogate mothers in India, and nearly half of them were to foreign parents.

In 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government banned foreigners from using Indian women as business surrogates. But the important domestic market remained untouched – until last year.

The outright ban has “killed” the domestic surrogacy market, said Hari Ramasubramanian, chief consultant at the Indian Surrogacy Law Centre, a legal consultancy specializing in the sector.

For Georgia, the timing of the ban couldn’t have been better. Two alternatives, Nepal and Cambodia, banned the practice in 2015 and 2016, respectively. India’s outright ban came into effect just as Ukraine, one of the world’s most popular surrogacy destinations, was invaded by Russia. And while some Indian service providers are eyeing Kenya – where Vinsfertility also has a center – it cannot offer a Georgia-like legal shield for those looking for surrogates.

“It’s murky in Kenya. There’s no law recognizing surrogacy, but the authorities are turning a blind eye,” said Sharmila Rudrappa, director of the South Asia Institute at the University of Texas at Austin and author from “Discounted Life: The Price of Global Surrogacy”. in India.”

In contrast, couples face no legal risk in Georgia, she added. Surrogacy costs more there than in India – one provider citing a price range of $30,000 to $39,000 – but significantly less than in the United States, where prices average between $120,000 and $150. 000 dollars, according to one group.

Georgia legalized surrogacy in 1997. Ravi Sharma, the director of ARTbaby, cited the way Georgian laws favor adoptive parents as a pull factor: ‘child. There is no mention of surrogacy or surrogate motherhood on the birth certificate. There is no obligation to have a lawyer.”

Man sitting at desk looking at camera with laptop in front of him

Ravi Sharma.

ARTbaby Georgia

Other legal experts who spoke to Insider agreed with Sharma’s interpretation of Georgian law – which also helped the country attract some of the international surrogacy market after India’s law of 2015 banned foreign couples from using Indian surrogate mothers.

Many Indians were introduced to surrogacy clinics in Georgia when Lisa Ray, a model and Bollywood actress, spoke publicly in 2018 about using a Georgian surrogate to deliver her twins.

Karkhanis said parents could be vulnerable to legal challenges once they return home if their child was born through a commercial surrogacy in another country. But Georgia’s clear laws eliminate that concern, Ramasubramanian said.

India’s ban does not apply to “altruistic surrogacy”, where someone carries a couple’s child out of goodwill, rather than for payment. But it could be a shield for coercion and exploitation in a society as unequal as India, said Shiromi Chaturvedi, a psychologist whose work and research has focused on surrogate mothers.

“It will drive the industry underground,” she said. “And surrogates won’t have even the little protection they had before against legal contracts.”

Once again, Georgia could be the beneficiary as an attractive alternative for Indian surrogates hoping for better pay under safer conditions, Rudrappa said, adding that it could put vulnerable women at risk of trafficking.

“Their move to Georgia is real,” she said. “I’m already starting to hear about it.”


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