DOZENS of British couples a year are travelling to India to pay women to act as surrogate mothers as part of a booming industry in 'fertility tourism'.
Medical experts yesterday revealed at least two couples every month are travelling from the UK to clinics in India where local women can earn up to 16 times their annual wage to have babies for comparatively wealthy foreigners.
One in six couples suffers from infertility and many women have fertility problems that mean they cannot have babies of their own.
Experts yesterday revealed dozens of fertility clinics have sprung up in cities across India, where foreign couples can pay local women a fee to donate eggs and carry babies.
In some cases the pregnant surrogates live together in hostels attached to clinics.
Around 50 couples every year use surrogate mothers in the UK, but the number of willing surrogates is in such short supply that a growing number of couples are now prepared to travel overseas.
Although the overall costs to the couple are similar, at around 10,000 in the UK and overseas, the 3,000 fee paid to an Indian woman is far more than she could hope to earn otherwise. Some women can earn even more depending on the fee paid by the clinic.
Last night critics warned that the vast wealth divide between the UK and India meant women could be exploited.
Susan Seenan, from the charity Infertility Network UK, said there were questions over the practice overseas that could lead to the exploitation of desperately poor women.
"Surrogacy is one choice open to patients with infertility," she said. "It comes down to patient choice and as long as they are making an informed choice then it's up to them.
"But are these women in India being looked after properly and are their rights being protected? These women are patients as well. Why are they doing it? Do they have an informed choice or is it being done out of desperation? There is a potential for exploitation."
But Dr Kaushal Kadam, from the Rotunda clinic in Mumbai, said: "Surrogates do it to give their children a better education, to buy a home, to start up a small business or a shop. This is as much money as they could earn in maybe three years. I really don't think that this is exploiting the women. I feel it is two people helping each other."
Last night Carol O'Reilly from Surrogate UK confirmed increasing numbers of couples were registering an interest in travelling to India, mainly Asians looking for donors of the same ethnicity.
She said: "The main reason for these couples to go over there is that there are no surrogates or egg donors of that ethnicity in this country."
One couple who have made the journey are Bobby and Nikki Bains from London. Their surrogate at the Rotunda Clinic is in the early stages of pregnancy using a donor egg. The couple, who are Sikh, have had several failed attempts at fertility treatment. Bobby said: "We were frustrated with our attempts to get fertility treatment in the UK. We tried looking for surrogates but it did not work out so we decided to go abroad."
One 32-year-old Delhi woman, who would not be named, said she was planning her second surrogacy in two years in order to pay for her house and her son's education.
Separated from her husband, she found that her monthly wage of around 34 was insufficient to survive on. With the money she earned from the first surrogacy (around 6,700) she bought a house. She expects to pay for her son's education with what she earns for the second, which will amount to around 4,000 because fees can vary. She said: "I will save the money for my child's future."