India moves to protect poor with commercial surrogacy ban

Mixed reaction to draft law that restricts surrogacy to married infertile couples

India has unveiled a policy to ban the booming domestic commercial surrogacy industry in order to protect poor women from exploitation.

The draft law, once approved by parliament, will prohibit foreigners, single parents and gay couples from exploiting India’s loosely regulated surrogacy services to have children.

"This is a comprehensive Bill to completely ban commercial surrogacy," foreign minister Sushma Swaraj said.

She said only infertile couples, married for at least five years, could seek “altruistic surrogacy” through “close relatives”, but did not specify who these would be.


Conservative outlook

The ban will be introduced 10 months after parliament passed the Bill to allow pregnant women already in arrangements with couples time to give birth.

India's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government has long planned on regulating surrogate motherhood in keeping with its conservative outlook.

Last November, the foreign office instructed its overseas missions not to grant visas to foreigners who planned on coming to India to engage a surrogate mother.

To further deter potential parents, the interior ministry said a child born to foreigners through surrogacy would not be allowed to leave the country.

India is one of a handful of countries where, since 2002, women have been paid to bear someone else’s child. The industry is now worth about €89 million a year. It permitted a surrogate mother to carry another person’s genetic child through the process of in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) and embryo transfer, for a price.

Doctors and clinics brokered the services of scores of local surrogate mothers cheaply, mostly for overseas clients.

Limited options

The women were paid an average of about €4,400 per pregnancy – a large sum of money in India, where tens of millions live on less than a euro a day.

Doctors and activists, however, criticised the Bill on the grounds that couples desperate to have children would now be left with limited options.

"It will result in the total death of surrogacy, driving it underground," said Dr Nayna Patil of Akanksha Hospital and Research Institute, which operates one of India's oldest surrogacy clinics.

Rahul Bedi

Rahul Bedi

Rahul Bedi is a contributor to The Irish Times based in New Delhi