The Union Cabinet today passed a bill proposing a complete ban on commercial surrogacy, and allowing only legally wedded Indian couples to opt for children, to avoid unethical practices.
The Union Cabinet gave its nod to the introduction of the Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill, 2016 in Parliament, seeking a bar on unmarried couples, single parents, live-in partners and homosexuals from opting for surrogacy. The move is aimed at curbing unethical practices in the country, which has been emerging as a hub of commercial surrogacy. The bill has a provision for a jail term of up to ten years and a fine of Rs 10 lakh for violations, such as the abandonment of the child.
The new bill proposes a complete ban on commercial surrogacy in the country, and will allow only legally wedded Indian couples married for at least five years to have children through surrogacy. Foreigners as well as NRIs and PIOs who hold Overseas Citizens of India (OCI) cards have been barred from opting for surrogacy. External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj told reporters after the meeting.
Unmarried couples, single parents, live-in partners and homosexuals cannot opt for surrogacy as per the bill. Legally wedded couples who have been married for at least five years, can opt for surogacy, she said.
Only close relatives of couples seeking children will be allowed to be surrogate mothers. A woman who offers her womb for the purpose, will be able to do so only once as per the bill. The woman wanting a child through the method will be the mother as per the proposed law. There is a provision under the measure for a contract to clear any ambiguity. Only altruistic surrogacy will be allowed in a regulated form with some conditions, the bill said.
A woman seeking a surrogate child should between 23 and 50 years of age and her husband should be between 26 and 55 years. A surrogate child will have equal right as any other biological or adopted child over property, Swaraj said. Moreover, the surrogate mother, who should be a close relative of the couple, should be married and have borne a healthy child.
Swaraj said with India having over 2,000 surrogacy clinics, there was need to regulate the practice and only altruisic surrogacy will be allowed as per the bill. The bill comes in the wake of India emerging as a surrogacy hub for couples, and incidents of unethical practices being reported. It also seeks to set up a national surrogacy board at the central level as well as in states and Union territories. The bill, which will come up for consideration in Parliament during the Winter Session, aims to safeguard the rights of surrogate mothers and make parentage of such children legal. Surrogacy clinics under the bill will have to maintain their records for 25 years to ensure that documents are made available in case of a legal dispute.
Swaraj said successive governments had assured Parliament on eleven occasions of bringing forward such a bill. Seeking to allow a broader view to prevail, the government has decided that it will be referred to Parliament's Standing Committee on Health. The minister said the new law will be notified 10 months after it is cleared by the two Houses to allow mothers who are already pregnant to have a surrogate baby.Swaraj lamented that the method has become a "fashion" for couples, especially celebrities.
It has become a fashion, especially with celebrities. People do not want to go through the labour pain, and pay money to another woman to go through that process, she said.
There have been incidents where girl children born out of surrogacy have been abandoned, and children with disorders were deserted, she said.
Swaraj was of the view that the proposed bill will check exploitation of poor women, especially in the rural and tribal areas, and prevent "womb trade". Under the bill, couples going for surrogacy will also have to produce a certificate to prove that one of them is medically unfit to bear a child. People already having one child cannot go for surrogacy. Responding to a question, Swaraj said live-in partners, single parents, homosexuals and widows can go for adoption, but not surrogacy. To a query as to what couples could do if they did not have close relatives, the minister said that the option then would be to go for adoption.A Group of Ministers (GoM) headed by Swaraj had recently cleared the bill and had referred it to the Union Cabinet for a final call. The GoM was constituted at the behest of the Prime Minister's Office. Apart from Health Minister J P Nadda, Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and Food Processing Industries Minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal were among those part of the GoM.
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The government had recently admitted that in the absence of a statutory mechanism to control commissioning of surrogacy at present, there have been cases of pregnancies by way of surrogacy, including in rural and tribal areas, leading to possible exploitation of women by unscrupulous elements. To prevent exploitation of women, especially those in rural and tribal areas, the government has prohibited foreigners from commissioning surrogacy in the country, and has drafted this comprehensive legislation, sources said.