NEW DELHI • India's government said yesterday it would ban foreigners from using surrogate mothers in the country, a move likely to hit the booming commercial surrogacy industry.
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 nine billion rupees (S$193 million) and growing at 20 per cent a year.
But critics have said a lack of legislation encourages "rent-a-womb" exploitation of young, poor women.
In an affidavit to the Supreme Court yesterday the government said it "does not support commercial surrogacy". "No foreigners can avail surrogacy services in India," it told the court, which is hearing a petition regarding the industry, adding that surrogacy would be available "only for Indian couples".
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 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.
"Banning commercial surrogacy will send some couples onto the black market and deprive other couples of the chance of children," said Ms Ranjana Kumari, director of the Centre for Social Research.
"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 was needed.
The private petition to the top 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.
The government's affidavit, presented to the court by Solicitor General Ranjit Kumar, said it would "require some time to bring the law in place".