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Only married heterosexual Indian couples will be allowed to use surrogate mothers under proposed new law

BMJ 2016; 354 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.i4669 (Published 25 August 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;354:i4669
  1. Sophie Cousins
  1. Kathmandu

A bill in India proposing a complete ban on commercial surrogacy and allowing only legally wedded Indian couples to opt for children through surrogacy has been approved by the government in an attempt to curb exploitation of women.

The Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill seeks a ban on gay people, foreigners (including people of Indian origin), single parents, and live-in partners from having children through a surrogate.

The bill, which was approved by the Indian cabinet and will be discussed in parliament in the winter session, will allow only infertile Indian couples who have been married for five years to seek a surrogate, who must be a close relative, said Sushma Swaraj, the minister of external affairs.

“Childless couples who are medically unfit to have children can get help from a close relative, which is called altruistic surrogacy,” she told reporters on Wednesday.

People who violate the draft law such as by giving a child to others or carrying out commercial surrogacy could face a prison term of up to 10 years and a fine of Rs1m (£11 300; €13 200; $15 000).

India is considered the world’s surrogacy hub because of the easy availability of women who are willing to be surrogates for a price much lower than in other countries and its good state of medical technology, which has enabled the industry to thrive.

The Confederation of Indian Industry has estimated that surrogacy in India is a $2.3bn industry, with almost 3000 hospitals and clinics involved. Around 2000 such children are born through fertility clinics every year, said the Indian Council of Medical Research.

However, the Indian government believes that poor, illiterate women are being exploited.

But Hari G Ramasubramanian, chief consultant at the Indian Surrogacy Law Centre, told The BMJ that thousands of poor women in India relied on surrogacy as their only way to save money for their other children’s future or to repay debt. He said, “These women would be badly affected if commercial surrogacy is banned, as this was an option they had to make their lives better. There have been hundreds and hundreds of women who’ve opened up small businesses with this money,” he said.

In addition, there is widespread concern that the draft law could lead to a boom in illegal surrogacy. “Wherever there is immense demand, and where there are willing people to supply, the government’s move to ban such a transaction won’t be accepted by those affected. We can expect high [numbers of] violations,” Ramasubramanian added.

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