New Delhi (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The Indian government plans to ban surrogate services for foreigners. Only Indian nationals who cannot have children will be allowed to rent wombs, a practice that has created a US$ 1 billion industry in the country.
Concerns over the largely unregulated industry have been raised. In many surrogacy agreements, poor women are pulled into surrogacy work because of the money involved, heightening the risk of exploitation and abuse.
In its affidavit to the Supreme Court, the government said it “does not support commercial surrogacy”. At the same time, it seeks to prevent Indian women from becoming surrogate birth mothers for foreigners. Hence, the ban will apply only to foreign couples.
Now the proposal will have to go through parliament. The public will be able to present its views as of 15 November.
Under existing rules, foreign couples can enter into a surrogacy arrangement in India if they are a “man and woman” and have been “duly married” for at least two years.
In a recent piece, the Washington Post said that more than 6,000 surrogate babies are born in India each year, with almost half of them going to foreign couples. Why India? Because womb renting is cheaper than in the West.
Surrogacy costs can be a third of what they are in wealthier countries, ranging between US$ 18,000 and US$ 30,000, of which up to US$ 8,000 might go to the surrogate mother. This has made India a hub in procreative tourism.
Critics charge that surrogate mothers do no often realise the health implications of carrying a child that is not their own. At the same time, the women who participate tend to be poor and illiterate.
Reuters has reported that many of the surrogate mothers they interviewed could not explain the risks involved with surrogate pregnancies or the danger of having multiple embryos in their uterus.
For Jennifer Lahl, president and founder of the Center for Bioethics and Culture Network, the government proposal is a good move.
“I don't think it's where they need to end up,” she said, “but I think it's a great start because there have just been too many stories coming out of India about women being exploited and babies being abandoned or left” behind.
What is more, “There are tremendous health risks, it's not like a natural pregnancy . . . surrogate pregnancies have additional risks on top of natural pregnancy risks,” Lahl explained.