New Delhi/Nagpur: Amid the growing apprehension that commercial surrogacy could become an uncontrolled network just like organ harvesting racket, the government on Wednesday cleared a bill that seeks to completely ban commercial surrogacy. This would keep the increasing use of commercial surrogacy in check and allow only altruistic surrogacy under certain conditions.
“The Bill was required as India has emerged as a surrogacy hub for couples and incidents (were) reported on unethical practices,” external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj said at a briefing on cabinet decisions.
Titled, The Surrogacy Regulation Bill 2016, the conditions put up in it are stringent. Only Indian citizens will be allowed to have a surrogate child and non-resident Indians or PIO card holders won’t be allowed. The couple should be legally married and surrogacy will not be allowed for live-in couples, single parents or homosexuals.
A couple can only have a surrogate child after five years of legal marriage and must have a medical certificate with proof of infertility. “The Bill allows surrogacy only for necessity not for luxury or fashion as we have seen repeatedly,” Swaraj said.
The bill makes it mandatory for surrogate mothers to be married, be a close relative of couple wanting a child, and must have given birth to a healthy child before becoming a surrogate mother. A woman can only be a surrogate mother once in her life.
Violations of the bill will be punishable with 10 years of imprisonment and clinic assisting couples wanting a surrogate child will have to keep the medical records for 25 years after the birth of the child. “The cabinet has approved the Bill and it will be introduced in the next session of the parliament,” Swaraj said, adding, “under the Bill a national surrogacy board chaired by the health minister will be created to oversee implementation.”
The proposals of the bill have been met with some surprise in both the medical and activist community. High on the list is the fear that this bill will end up creating an underground surrogacy network in India which will end up compromising the rights and health of the surrogate mother even more.
“How will you implement a complete ban? This is a situation akin to the organ racket in India where though it is forbidden it still thrives illegally,” says Ranjana Kumari of Centre for Social Research. Two years ago CSR had organized a National Conference on Surrogacy in which they had sought to generate awareness about the issue. “We wanted rights of the surrogate secured, removal of the middle-man etc. However the Bill in its current form is an extreme one. We have taken four steps backwards today,” fumed Kumari.
The medical community is equally unhappy with the decision. Dr Sharda Jain, secretary-general of the Delhi-Gynae Forum who also runs an IVF clinic, thinks that the bill impinges on the ability of people to make a choice. “Also, if we have the technology, we have the know how and the rights of the surrogate mother are secured, then where is the issue?”
Commercial surrogacy was allowed in India since 2002.
In 2012, the surrogacy business was estimated to be worth more than $400 million a year, according to a report backed by UN. Surrogate mothers, according to several reports, would get paid anywhere between Rs.70,000 to Rs.3 lakh for a pregnancy which made it a very lucrative option but concerns have been raised over the unregulated nature of the industry which left the women open to exploitation.