By Anuradha Nagaraj
CHENNAI, India, June 19 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Police raided an illegal fertility clinic in southern Indian at the weekend and discovered 47 surrogate mothers - who had been lured to rent their wombs for money - living in "terrible conditions", they said.
Following a tip-off, Telangana state police raided the fertility clinic in the city of Hyderabad on Saturday and discovered the women, nearly all from northeastern India.
"The women were all huddled in one large room and had access to just one bathroom," investigating officer B. Limba Reddy told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on Monday.
"They were mostly migrants from northeastern states who had been brought here through agents and promised up to 400,000 rupees (around $6,000)."
An official from the clinic, who declined to be named, said the facility operated within the law and the women were not confined against their will.
"They were staying here as part of an agreement between the (adoptive) parent and the surrogate," he said.
India's surrogacy industry has come under attack from women's rights groups who say such clinics are "baby factories" for the rich, and lack of regulation results in poor and uneducated women signing contracts they do not fully understand.
Activists say there has been a surge in demand for surrogates after the Indian government drafted a bill to outlaw commercial surrogacy - a multi-billion dollar industry.
The bill is pending clearance in the Indian parliament.
Until the ban on surrogacy passes, India continues to be among a handful of countries where women can be paid to carry another's child through in-vitro fertilization and embryo transfer.
"The demand is very high right now and the involvement of migrant workers coming down from the northeast to take up surrogacy is new," said Hari Ramasubramanian of the Indian Surrogacy Law Centre.
"It raises concerns about the information the surrogates have, whether they have understood the agreement (and) the risks involved."
The Telangana health department is investigating the background of the surrogate mothers, said an official who declined to be named, adding the women are now under the department's supervision at the clinic.
(Reporting by Anuradha Nagaraj, additional reporting by Roli Srivastava, Editing by Ros Russell; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)