India's Maharashtra becomes first state to give surrogate mothers maternity benefits

Dr Nayna Patel conducting an ultrasound scan on a surrogate mother in Anand, Gujarat, on Oct 29, 2015.
Dr Nayna Patel conducting an ultrasound scan on a surrogate mother in Anand, Gujarat, on Oct 29, 2015.PHOTO: AFP

MUMBAI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Western India's Maharashtra has become the first state to extend full maternity benefits to women who have babies using a surrogate mother, a state official said.

All women in government jobs who have a baby using a surrogate mother can now take 180 days of maternity leave, putting them on an equal footing with women who conceive naturally, the official said. The leave can only be taken once.

Surrogate mothers usually hand over the babies to the clinic or the genetic mother a few days after giving birth.

"It doesn't make a difference whether the child is conceived naturally or through a surrogate - the woman still has to look after the child," said Mr B.J. Gadekar, a deputy secretary in the state's finance department. "We want to treat them equally."

India opened up to commercial surrogacy in 2002, and is among just a handful of countries and a few US states where women can be paid to carry another's genetic child through a process of in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) and embryo transfer.

Surrogacy motherhood remains a sensitive topic, and the government last year banned foreigners from using Indian surrogates, hurting India's lucrative US$400-million-a-year business with over 3,000 fertility clinics.

Most women's rights groups in India are critical of the surrogacy industry, saying fertility clinics are nothing more than "baby factories" for the rich.

But Ms Sakina Bohura at the Akshara Centre, a non-profit focused on gender rights in Mumbai, said the Maharashtra decision would help women who are forced to opt for surrogacy in order to have children.

"It's a recognition that surrogacy is a valid choice for these women," she said. "It's a very progressive stance by the Maharashtra government."