Bhoomi Shah says she lives the good life in Ahmedabad. She has a well-paying job, has a car that she likes to drive around and lives in a bungalow with her parents, who have always supported her decisions and life choices. So last week, she packed her bags and made a quick three-day trip to Cambodia — not drawn to the east Aisa nation by the iconic Angkor Wat, but to rent a womb.
“I am 32 and I do not wish to get married. And getting a surrogate in India for a single person is now impossible,” she tells The Hindu over the phone. “I wanted a baby, who I am genetically linked to. So it made imminent sense to try surrogacy. But it is impossible in India so I searched on the Internet and found Cambodia offers it,” she says.
During her three-day trip, she visited the clinic where she will be making the egg donation and met four women who were willing to carry her child. “The women I met were Cambodian. My only criterion was that a healthy woman should carry my child,” says Ms Shah, who is scheduled to travel to Phnom Penh in October to start the surrogacy process – which will cost her around Rs 15 lakh.
With India toughening its stand on surrogacy, evident in the Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill 2016 which the Cabinet cleared last month, surrogacy service seekers, and even doctors have started moving to destinations that still allow this service.
While Cambodia has become popular among people — both Indians and from other parts of the world — countries such as Ukraine and Kenya are attracting doctors from India.
The big rush
Bhoomi Shah’s search for a surrogate was facilitated by Benhur Samson, CEO of Surrogacy Abroad, who has taken 23 sets of people to the country this year alone, of which six were from India.
“India is no longer on the surrogacy map and after Bangkok and Thailand stopped surrogacy, Cambodia opened up,” Mr Samson says, adding that this was the “first batch” that he has taken to Cambodia.
As in the early days of surrogacy in India, the lack of proper laws or guidelines in Cambodia has proved a big attraction. Medical tourism consultants such as Mr Samson say doctors from Thailand have set up infertility clinics here.
But the focus on Cambodia has its set of concerns.
“There is growth in surrogacy in Cambodia since last year. There is a huge pressure building and Cambodia is ill-prepared to handle it. Besides, there are no laws in place (in Cambodia),” says Sam Everingham, Global Director, Families Through Surrogacy. He says that couples from Australia too are looking at other destinations including Cambodia, but there are concerns about its medical infrastructure vis-à-vis other destinations such as India.
Mr Everingham says doctors from Thailand have set up shop in Cambodia and that the surrogates are from Thailand, Cambodia and also India.
Doctors who offered surrogacy service in India are aware of the new hubs. Dr Rita Bakshi, chairperson of International Fertility Centre in Delhi, says: “Cambodia may have emerged as a hub, but it has only one or two players currently. It doesn’t have well-defined laws so a better place is Ukraine that has laws in place.”
Ukraine’s presence is not lost on Indian doctors who once had a good surrogacy business going.
After the ban on commercial surrogacy in November last year, Hyderabad-based Kiran Infertility Centre collaborated with an infertility clinic in Ukraine. “We have done this work for the last 10 years and we have patients still approaching us for it. We tell them it will cost more, but we can offer the service,” says Dr Samit Sekhar, who visits Ukraine once in two months