Apart from the decisions made for Jammu and Kashmir, the Indian government passed another important bill on Monday. This bill, immensely impacts the single population of the country, couples in live-in relationships and homosexual couples, who want to have children via surrogacy. The Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill, 2019 prohibits commercial surrogacy but allows altruistic surrogacy. In an altruistic surrogacy, the surrogate does not receive any monetary compensation and is usually a friend or family member of the intended parents. This bill defines surrogacy as a practice where a woman gives birth to a child for an intending couple with the intention to hand over the child after birth to the intending couple. It also adds that the intending couple should not abandon the child born, under any condition.
This bill also explicitly prohibits live-in partners, same-sex couples, foreigners and single-parents from fostering a child using surrogacy services. Also, heterosexual couples who have been married for longer than five years are the only ones eligible to undergo surrogacy. The bill will "allow ethical altruistic surrogacy to the intending infertile Indian married couple between the age of 23-50 years and 26-55 years for female and male, respectively". The eligibility for surrogacy also requires:
a) a certificate of proven infertility from a District Medical Board,
b) an order of parentage and custody of the surrogate child from a Magistrate's court and,
c) an insurance cover for the surrogate mother expanding to a period of sixteen months.
The reason behind this bill? India's growing illegal surrogacy trade.
In India, surrogacy trade exploits women from economically weaker sections and has actually manifested into an illegal trade since its legalisation in 2002. Over 3,000 illegal surrogacy clinics are currently running in the country and research states that this trade of 'renting a womb' has turned India into a 'fertility tourism' hotspot.
While discussing the bill, Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said, "It is the ‘need of the hour’ to have such a bill and it is unfortunate that the country had emerged as a hub of commercial surrogacy in recent years." The government stated that this bill has been moved to control the illegal surrogacy that occurs throughout the country.
"According to rough estimates, there are 2,000-3,000 surrogacy clinics running illegally in India and a few thousand foreign couples resort for surrogacy practice within India, and the whole issue is thoroughly unregulated. There have been reports concerning unethical practices, abandonment of children born out of surrogacy and exploitation of surrogate mothers," added Harsh Vardhan.
However, one question that has arisen since the passing of this bill, is the concerns regarding surrogacy opted by same-sex couples. After the scrapping of section 377 and India becoming supportive of the LGBTQ community in the country, shouldn't homosexual couples be taken into consideration as well? While same-sex couples are allowed to live-in together as adults, getting married legally is still not on the cards. Which makes adopting children a far fetched dream for single men in the country as well as those who are part of the LGBTQ community, making surrogacy their only option. Single woman or a married couple, on the other hand, can adopt children. So who is actually in the harm's way with this bill being passed with such strict restrictions?
"In terms of public health policy, the whole idea of wanting to regulate a sector is to make it equitable and make it available to those who need it the most. Instead, this bill closes the door on a lot of the population who deserve it," said Dr Anant Bhan, an independent researcher on global health and policy told an international news portal.
Here's hoping the passing of the bill will prevent the exploitation of women in the country.
Featured Image: Reuters
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