India moves to ban booming commercial surrogacy business

Indian surrogate mothers during a peaceful protest at a hospital in India on Oct 29, 2015.
Indian surrogate mothers during a peaceful protest at a hospital in India on Oct 29, 2015. PHOTO: AFP

NEW DELHI (AFP) - India's government on Wednesday (Aug 24) approved plans to ban the booming commercial surrogacy industry, a move that would block thousands of foreign couples who flock to centres in the country to have a baby.

Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj said Cabinet approved a Bill to restrict surrogacy services to local married couples, following concerns about the exploitation of young, poor Indian women who bear babies for others.

"This is a comprehensive Bill to completely ban commercial surrogacy," Ms Swaraj told reporters after the Cabinet meeting.

"Childless couples, who are medically unfit to have children, can take help from a close relative, which is called altruistic surrogacy," she said.

Ms Swaraj said foreign couples, along with all single or gay prospective parents, would be barred from surrogacy services in India if parliament passed the Bill.

The government last year flagged the shutdown of the multi-million dollar industry, sparking an outcry from fertility specialists at the country's 2,000-odd centres.

Ranks of childless foreign couples have flocked to the country in recent years looking for a cheap, legal and simple route to parenthood.

But critics of the industry said a lack of legislation encouraged "rent-a-womb" exploitation of impoverished Indian women who lacked rights in surrogacy arrangements.

Ms Swaraj said the Bill would also address concerns about the welfare of the child, following reports disabled babies have been rejected by couples.

Some 2,000 infertile couples hire the wombs of Indian women to carry their embryos through to birth every year, according to the government.

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.

Ms Swaraj said the ban would be introduced 10 months after the Bill was passed in parliament, to allow pregnant women already in arrangements with couples time to give birth.