“Womb for Rent”: Socio-Cultural Implications of Reproductive Tourism in India
Commercial surrogacy in India has become an increasingly controversial human rights and global health issue. Indian women living in dire poverty are the most vulnerable group in this transnational phenomenon. Reproductive tourism can be defined as the process whereby affluent people, predominately from Global North countries (i.e., Canada) seek assisted reproduction in the Global South (in this case, India), to accomplish fertility and kinship formation goals while remaining oblivious to the inevitable social issues associated with this international trade. This study investigates how the media and academic anthropological research present current understandings of family and kinship regarding commercial surrogacy. I argue that reproductive tourism is a multi-faceted social issue with significant socio-cultural implications for kinship in India and the Global North with roots in a gendered division of labour, culture-specific belief systems, technological advancement, race and class stratification, capitalist structures, and globalization. I critically analyze diverse media sources that offer insights within these realms, and I use research in anthropology as ethnographic evidence to support, challenge, or extend claims reported by the media. The commodification of reproductive labour has had vast impacts on the cultural meanings of kinship in India and in Global North countries. Transnational surrogacy must be perceived by governments as a public matter rather than a private one, in order to adequately derive holistic solutions to halt the exploitation of vulnerable Indian women while balancing the desire of infertile individuals to utilize surrogacy as a means of kinship formation.
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