Surrogacy tourism to India under threat

India’s booming commercial surrogacy tourism is on the point of collapse after government plans to introduce new regulation banning foreigners from hiring Indian surrogates

India’s booming commercial surrogacy tourism businesses face a bleak outlook. The government is planning legislation to ban most foreigners from hiring Indian surrogates.

In October 2015, Indian embassies stopped issuing medical visas allowing foreigners to enter the country for the purposes of hiring a surrogate mother. The Indian Council of Medical Research has also banned clinics from offering such services to foreigners.

What was a $2.3 billion industry will collapse. The government says that the lack of a legal framework has allowed surrogates to be underpaid and exploited by clinics, which charge between $25,000 and $50,000 for the safe delivery of a baby. Surrogates get between $4,000 and $6,500 from foreign couples and between $3,000 and $5,000 from Indian couples.

The new law aims to safeguard the rights of surrogate mothers, as surrogates are sometimes surreptitiously implanted with more than one embryo to improve the success rate, resulting in multiple births that could be difficult for the mothers. Because the business is largely unregulated, there is little recourse if something goes wrong.

Commercial surrogacy is allowed in a number of other countries, including Malaysia, Russia and Ukraine, and in some U.S. states. Most developed countries allow altruistic surrogacy, in which no payment changes hands, but ban commercial surrogacy. The industry was banned in Thailand in August 2015, and legislation is under discussion in Malaysia.

Women’s rights advocates and non-government organizations in India have long campaigned against the industry. The All India Women’s Conference says that surrogacy is an exploitation of women’s bodies and has called for it to be banned immediately.

Official figures suggest 2,000 children are born to surrogate mothers in India each year, and unofficial figures for the value of the industry range from $400 million to $2.3 billion. EY, a consultancy, published research in July 2015 suggesting that the market could grow by 20% a year.

Under the ART bill, only Indian couples, non-resident Indian couples and foreign couples that include an Indian citizen will be allowed to hire surrogates.

The bill says that only married women between the ages of 23 and 35 who already have children will be eligible to become surrogates. Commissioning parents must bear all the medical expenses of the surrogates and be legally bound to accept children born as a result of the arrangements, even if they have health problems. Only registered ART banks will be able to initiate the process. In vitro fertilisation clinics, which have been active in the industry, will be barred.

It has been renamed the Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill as it does not deal with all ART forms. The Bill is still in discussion and may change before becoming law. Health experts believe that dealing in surrogacy in isolation and in separation with other important issues like ART clinics, gammet donation, sperm donation, IVF practices (which had been earlier the part of broad ART bill) will serve no purpose.