India closes ‘rent-a-womb’ door to foreigners
New Delhi: The
Government of India has said it would ban foreigners from using surrogate
mothers in the country, a move likely to hit the booming commercial surrogacy
Ranks of childless
foreign couples have flocked to the country in recent years looking for a
cheap, legal and simple route to parenthood. Health industry estimates put the
size of India’s surrogacy business at 9bn rupees ($138m) and growing at 20% a
year. But critics have said a lack of legislation encourages “rent-a-womb”
exploitation of young, poor Indian women.
In an affidavit to the Supreme
Court on Wednesday the government of India told the court that it “does not
support commercial surrogacy. No foreigners can avail surrogacy services in
India. It would be available only for Indian couples.” The SC is hearing a
petition regarding the industry.
Thousands of infertile
couples, many from overseas, hire the wombs of Indian women to carry their
embryos through to birth.
India, with cheap
technology, skilled doctors and a steady supply of local surrogates, is one of
relatively few countries where women can be paid to carry another’s child. Surrogacy
for profit is illegal in many other countries.
The process usually
involves in-vitro fertilisation and embryo transfer, leading to a rise in
fertility centres offering such services.
A top fertility expert
branded the government’s move discriminatory, while a leading women’s activist
warned it could push the industry underground and out of reach of regulators.
surrogacy will send some couples on to the black market and deprive other
couples of the chance of children,” Ranjana Kumari, director of the Centre for
Social Research, told AFP.
“Our research shows
many surrogates do not have health insurance and are paid poorly, among other
issues,” she said, adding that stronger regulation rather than an outright ban
The private petition to
the apex court seeks a halt to the importation of human embryos for commercial
purposes. Earlier this month the court in Delhi expressed its concern and
ordered the government to spell out measures for regulating the industry.
affidavit, presented to the court by the solicitor general, Ranjit Kumar, said
it would “require some time to bring the law in place. The government will
prohibit and penalise commercial surrogacy services,” it said.
The government has been
consulting women’s groups and the health industry on a draft bill, the Assisted
Reproductive Technology that seeks to regulate the industry. Clinic owners
denied ill-treatment of surrogate mothers, saying it is in their interests to
treat the women well so they produce healthy babies.
Dr Nayana Patel, one of
India’s leading fertility specialists, said the move discriminated against
foreigners who were also desperate to have children. “Yes, there need to be
strict checks and counter checks but banning foreigners is not the answer. It’s
inhuman,” Patel told AFP.
“There is no
exploitation, it’s a voluntary contract between human beings involving an
exchange of money. What’s wrong with that?”
“It’s a dignified
earning. Instead of women working as maids, they can be surrogates,” said
Patel, who runs the Akanksha fertility clinic in the western state of Gujarat.
The latest move comes
after India issued new rules in 2012 barring foreign gay couples and single
people from using surrogate mothers to become parents, drawing sharp criticism
from gay rights advocates and fertility clinics.
The existing rules say
foreign couples seeking to enter into a surrogacy arrangement in India must be
a “man and woman who are duly married and the marriage should be sustained at
least two years”.
The cost of surrogacy
in India generally ranges from about $18,000 to $30,000, of which around $8,000
goes to the surrogate mother. The figure is roughly a third of the US price.