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Surrogacy as Cover for Trading in Babies

by Ujjwala NayuduThe Indian Express
January 8th, 2013

The uncovering of what appears to be baby trading has blurred the line between such rackets and surrogacy, amid signs that the woman not only sold off at least one child but has also struck a deal for one she is expecting.

Manjula, or Mona Thakor, admits she was paid for a baby by a Ahmedabad gynaecologist who routed it to a couple. The crime branch has found she is pregnant once again and has registered with another doctor to deliver the baby as a surrogate.

The police case is against gynaecologist Bharat Atit, nurse Niru Rathi and Thakor’s boyfriend Rajkumar Jadav. It is not yet clear whether the baby’s father is Rajkumar or the woman’s former husband, with whom she had renewed her relationship.

“We have found out now that the woman had signed a form with Dr Atit in 2010, too, to mother a surrogate baby. She is a professional surrogate and is believed to be working with another doctor at present,” crime branch chief Arun Sharma said. “But this baby (the one involved in the case under under investigation) was sold off illegally by Dr Atit.” Atit’s wife Malini, incidentally, is a former Ahmedabad mayor.

Indian laws on surrogacy allow a healthy woman to voluntarily carry a baby for another couple, which she can conceive directly through the father or through IVF. Surrogacy is illegal when the same process is carried out in the absence of a legal agreement. It is also open to exploitation by frauds — a baby fathered by a fourth person can be passed off as a product of surrogacy.

The immediate instance of suspected baby trading was, ironically, unearthed in investigations into a rape complaint. “The woman wanted to trap her boyfriend because he was seeing another woman. The surrogacy racket was unearthed after this,” crime branch chief Sharma said.

Her FIR of July last year (copy with The Indian Express) and a subsequent statement revealed a story that led to the police opening a fresh probe after closing the rape case.

Mona has disclosed she is a divorcee. Since divorcing Harikrishna Jevatram Ahari in 2007, she began living alone. She met Rajkumar in a catering job in Anjar, Kutch, and wanted to marry him but the fact that she had two children came in the way. She quit the job and started to stay with an aunt in Ahmedabad, where her former husband tried to patch up with her. “He used to plead, so I took pity on him and decided to revive a physical relationship,” she wrote in the statement.

Later, she and boyfriend Rajkumar moved in together. She got pregnant around December 2010 and has stated that Rajkumar made her meet nurse Niru Rathi.

“She claimed she had wanted to abort the child but Rathi convinced her to keep it, saying Dr Atit would give it to a couple for a payment,” said a crime branch official. “The fact is she agreed to this without going through the legal procedures.”

Mona delivered a boy in Atit’s clinic on September 30, 2011. The baby was handed over to a couple on October 7.

Atit had done a sex-determination test and reportedly promised the mother Rs 2 lakh as it was going to be a boy. It was the money that would eventually lead to the unearthing of the deal. When Mona Thakor filed a complaint of rape and torture with the crime branch women’s cell, she alleged that her boyfriend had also grabbed the money she had received for the baby. Of the total Rs 2 lakh agreed under the deal, she got only Rs 50,000, she said.

Once the child is found, DNA tests will be conducted to confirm who the father is, besides seeking to establish whether the child is indeed Mona Thakor’s.

It is not just the Mona Thakor case, Sharma said, but turning out into a wider racket where the supposed victims may be involved along with the accused. The police have launched operations involving so-called surrogate mothers and the agents who lure them to clinics in Ahmedabad, Anand, Nadiad and Saurashtra.

“We have a suspicion that Rajkumar is part of the racket. He either traps separated or single needy women for Niru, who is an agent for Dr Atit,” Sharma said. “In this case, Mona Thakor was asked to deliver the baby for money and the baby was sold off illegally without following surrogacy laws. This is a racket working in a chain process.”

The crime branch is looking for the notary who endorsed surrogacy documents for Dr Atit; he could possibly have information on more instance of babies being sold illegally. They have sought information on all babies handed over to couples from Atit’s clinic.

The crime branch has booked Atit, Niru and Rajkumar under IPC sections for illegally selling off a baby, fraud and conspiracy. Atit has applied for anticipatory bail and there have been no arrests yet.

LAWS & RACKETS

Legal surrogacy

Under Indian laws, a healthy woman can volunteer to carry a baby for another couple. She signs a contract with the doctor, with an undertaking not to claim ownership of the baby in future. A surrogate mother is given a payment (whatever is decided between the doctor and the couple) that is mentioned in the contract. The child is given to the couple once documents of adoption are notarised.

Procedure

The woman conceives the baby either directly through the father or through IVF, where the sperm of the father is fused with her egg. In some cases, both the sperm and the egg may be provided by the parents, and the embryo so developed is placed in the surrogate mother’s womb.

Fraud

In some cases, the parents are told the surrogate is delivering their baby but the woman actually delivers a baby fathered by someone else.

Illegal surrogacy

Doctors have been known to convince healthy women to carry a baby for money. The woman gets pregnant but without the agreement that would have made surrogacy legal. This amounts to baby trading.



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