India has banned commercial surrogacy after its parliament passed a bill ending the country’s reputation as a ‘rent a womb’ haven for childless couples.
The Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill 2016 bans all foreign applicants, bringing to an end a period during which India became the world’s “fertility tourism” hotspot, with an estimated $400m (£317m) per year being spent by couples from abroad.
The new law’s supporters say it will also protect vulnerable women from being exploited by unscrupulous agents for wealthy Indian clients seeking to jump adoption queues. Now, surrogate mothers must be a “close relative” and recipients must be infertile couples who have been married at least five years.
As the bill was being discussed in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of parliament, the health minister, J P Nadda, said: "Even NGOs and civil society were of the opinion that commercial surrogacy must be stopped.
“Exploitation of surrogate mothers was also an issue. The government decided to come out with the bill keeping the Indian ethos in mind, so that exploitation of surrogate mothers could be stopped."
The law seeks to end such exploitation and only allow “altruistic surrogacy”, as now surrogates will be stopped from accepting money, other than payment of medical bills.
However opponents say prohibition of commercial surrogacy could push the business underground, and that the definition of “close relative” is problematic.
Dr Ranjana Kumari of the Centre for Social Research, a women’s rights group based in Delhi, said: “I think it is a little extreme to ban it completely, we would have liked to have seen better regulation. That way at least it would have remained in the open.
“Given the social relations in some Indian societies, there is also a worry that due to power dynamics some females could be coerced into such situations.
“Ideally regulation would’ve helped ensure consent, but it’s the law now so hopefully it will still help.”
The bill bans any form of surrogacy for gay people, single parents and unmarried couples, prompting some to call it archaic.
“It is a good bill but not modern enough,” said Supriya Sule, an MP for the Congress Party, during the bill’s debate.
Ghosh Dastidar of the Trinamool Congress Party (TCP) said same-sex couples should also be allowed to have a child through surrogacy.
Though hard data is extremely rare, some estimates said in the “fertility tourism” boom years between 2002 – 2015, some clinics counted gay – mainly American – couples as 40 per cent of their business.