India denies visas to Australian couples looking for surrogate mothers

SYDNEY - Australian couples looking for surrogate mothers in India are being denied visas to enter the country, it was reported on Friday.

"India has put a freeze on all new applications for new intended Australian parents wanting to engage in surrogacy," ABC website quoted Sam Everingham from Surrogacy Australia as saying.

He said couples who have pregnant surrogates in India are facing long delays in having their visas issued, according to the report.

"For those who have got pregnant surrogates we have seen a lot of anxiety and a lot of panic around getting a visa in time for the person," Everingham said.

The Indian Consulate in Sydney said the delay in visa is due to concern over the welfare of surrogate children born to Australian parents, according to the ABC report.

In a case in 2012, an Indian surrogate mother gave birth to twins for an Australian couple who later left one baby behind, saying they could only afford to take one child.

Indian authorities said they have asked Australia for clearer guarantees that children born under surrogacy arrangements will be granted Australian nationality.

The consulate said it will issue visas if those guidelines are met.

Besides the couple in the India case, another Australian couple were said to have abandoned a baby with Down Syndrome born to a surrogate mother in Thailand in December, returning home to Australia with his healthy twin sister.

But Mr David Farnell and his wife Wendy, parents of the baby named Gammy, now seven months old, told Australian television that they had wanted to keep both babies but had to leave Thailand with only Gammy's healthy twin sister after the surrogate mother threatened to involve police, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported.

Australia's Federal Circuit Court Chief Judge John Pascoe has called for an inquiry, and said he thought "international commercial surrogacy is the new frontline in human trafficking".

"We have enough anecdotal evidence to believe that people are commissioning children willy-nilly without any proper protections for the children or for the surrogate mothers," AFP quoted the judge as saying at a conference earlier in October.

Australian Attorney-General George Brandis said he was considering recommendations raised in a Family Law Council report, released in December last year, which included a call for an inquiry by the Australian Law Reform Commission.

With India's denial of visas to Australian couples seeking surrogacy services, some surrogacy advocates are concerned that couples may look to countries with less established industries, potentially putting all parties at risk.

"There is a lot less screening of parents before they engage, often no screening at all," ABC website quoted Everingham as saying. "There is no guarantee that a child will be able to exit that country."

India has guidelines for the surrogacy industry but no laws to enforce them. Legislation to regulate the industry has been sitting in parliament for several years, according to ABC. Delhi-based surrogacy lawyer Anurag Chawla said until the Indian government enacts laws to govern the industry, problems will continue.

"The clinics feel they can do anything and said when they are caught that there is no law, so it is a grey area," Mr Chawla said.

"The couples can also do whatever they want: if they want to leave one child they have left and gone."