NEW DELHI – The Centre on Wednesday (Aug 24) approved plans to ban the booming commercial surrogacy industry, a move that would block thousands of foreign couples who flock to these centres to have a baby. India will join several other countries who have made ‘rent-a-womb’ facilities illegal.
Commercial surrogacy is banned in most developed countries, including Australia, United Kingdom, Canada, France, Germany, Sweden, New Zealand, Japan and Thailand among others.
India has no law regulating surrogacy and the bill took many avatars, with the government finally separating surrogacy from the Assisted Reproductive Technologies (Regulation) Bill in 2016.
There are more than 50 million infertile couples in the world. Those who can afford head to India and Thailand to rent wombs. The two countries became the world’s biggest hubs for commercial surrogacy.
Thousands of infertile couples paid poor women to rent their womb for nine months so they could take a healthy baby back home. Global, regional and national estimates of prevalence and of trends in infertility are needed to target prevention and treatment efforts.
The industry’s ugly underbelly hit the spotlight when an Australian couple abandoned one of their twins in Thailand in 2014 because he had Down’s syndrome, which led the country to ban commercial surrogacy in February 2015.
India was already considering a ban when another couple from Australia went home in 2014 with just one of the twin because they wanted a girl, leaving their son behind in Delhi.
Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj said Cabinet approved a Bill to restrict surrogacy services to local married couples, following concerns about the exploitation of young, poor Indian women who bear babies for others.
“This is a comprehensive Bill to completely ban commercial surrogacy,” Ms Swaraj told reporters after the Cabinet meeting. “Childless couples, who are medically unfit to have children, can take help from a close relative, which is called altruistic surrogacy,” she said.
Ms Swaraj said foreign couples, along with all single or gay prospective parents, would be barred from surrogacy services in India if parliament passed the Bill.
The government last year flagged the shutdown of the multi-million dollar industry, sparking an outcry from fertility specialists at the country’s 2,000-odd centres.
Ranks of childless foreign couples have flocked to the country in recent years looking for a cheap, legal and simple route to parenthood. But critics of the industry said a lack of legislation encouraged “rent-a-womb” exploitation of impoverished Indian women who lacked rights in surrogacy arrangements.
Ms Swaraj said the Bill would also address concerns about the welfare of the child, following reports disabled babies have been rejected by couples. Some 2,000 infertile couples hire the wombs of Indian women to carry their embryos through to birth every year, according to the government.
India, with cheap technology, skilled doctors and a steady supply of local surrogates, is one of relatively few countries where women can be paid to carry another’s child.
Surrogacy for profit is illegal in many other countries.
Ms Swaraj said the ban would be introduced 10 months after the Bill was passed in parliament, to allow pregnant women already in arrangements with couples time to give birth.