The Indian union cabinet has recently passed a bill proposing a complete ban on commercial surrogacy, and allowing only legally wedded Indian couples to opt for children, to avoid unethical practices.

The Indian government has recently approved the introduction of a bill that seeks to ban commercial surrogacy, the Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill, 2016. The proposed bill bars the practice, commonly known as ‘rent a womb’, and allows only infertile couples to bear a child using a surrogate mother.

The Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill seeks to ensure effective regulation of surrogacy, while completely banning the commercial surrogacy practice in India. The proposed bill, when implemented will make commercial surrogacy illegal and will outlaw the single people, married couples who have biological/ adopted children, live-in partners, NRIs and homosexuals from using the option of surrogacy.

The new surrogacy Bill will allows a married woman with at least one child of her own to act as a surrogate mother only once in her lifetime. Moreover, it bans childless or unmarried women from acting as surrogate mothers. The surrogate mother should be a relative of the couple and she should have children of her own. The Bill will ensure effective regulation of surrogacy, prohibit commercial surrogacy and allow ethical surrogacy to the needy infertile couples. Also, the bill will allow “altruistic surrogacy” for couples without child after at least five years of marriage.

Mrs. Sushma Swaraj, External Affairs Minister (EMA), stated that the Bill bans foreigners, NRIs and PIOs who hold Overseas Citizens of India (OCI) cards to use the option of surrogacy due to divorces becoming common phenomena in foreign countries. Mrs. Swaraj also emphasized that the reason for not allowing homosexual or live-in relationships to opt for surrogacy as such relationships are not recognized in the country. On homosexuals, the EMA Minister said, “We do not recognize homosexual or live-in relationships that are why they are not allowed to commission babies through surrogacy. It is against our ethos”.

Importantly, lately India has emerged as a surrogacy hub for couples from different countries. There have been several reported cases concerning unethical practices of surrogacy across country. Incidents such as exploitation of surrogate mothers, desertion of children born out of surrogacy and rackets of intermediaries importing human gametes and embryos were also reported. “The bill was required as India has emerged as a surrogacy hub for couples and incidents (were) reported on unethical practices,” informed the external affairs minister. Mrs. Swaraj also opined that it is quite regrettable that some couples having their own son and daughter prefer to go for surrogacy as it is considered fashionable to do so. “Big celebrities who not only have one but two children, a son and a daughter, even they went ahead with surrogacy,” she said without naming anyone.

Violating the law can earn 10 years in jail. Clinics assisting couples wanting a surrogate child will have to maintain medical records for 25 years after the birth of the child. However, currently the Surrogacy bill 2016 has only received the union Cabinet nod. It will be debated in both the houses of the Parliament and will have to be passed before it becomes the law.

by Ashwani Srivastva

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