A Bharatiya Parivar Bill: The ‘rent-a-womb’ practice to go

    In a bid to check commercialization of surrogacy, the new draft Bill approved by the Union Cabinet has gone to another extreme. It aims to reinforce the traditional idea of Bharatiya Parivar, allowing a mami, chachi or bhabhi to carry a surrogate child for the married infertile relative. If enacted, the Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill 2016 would ban the “rent-a-womb” practice. Since 2002, when commercial surrogacy became legal in India, it grew into an unregulated industry worth$2 billion, exploited by foreigners and NRIs, who paid underprivileged women for renting their womb, to escape tough laws on surrogacy in their own land.

    Women rights activists demanded concrete steps to regulate the sector like registering surrogate mothers, fixing compensation and eliminating the middleman. In the absence of proper legislation, there have been instances of surrogate children getting entangled in an international legal web or just abandoned. Legislation was indeed needed. The Bill does take some progressive steps like giving legal rights to the surrogate child and banning repeated pregnancies. But it is imprudent in this age to expect a woman to bear a child as an act of altruism. It would be hard for needy couples to find a relative who has one healthy child and is willing to bear another one whom she can’t claim as her own. The Bill deals an unkind blow to infertile couples.

    Imposing a ban is a simple option; regulating the ban is the real challenge. The organ transplant ban has shown how things get pushed underground in case of a demand-supply mismatch. Citing “Indian ethos” for denying the surrogacy option to single people, homosexuals and live-in couples, the new Bill tends to stigmatize a large section of society and ignores the changing ground reality. Anyone can adopt a child, irrespective of the marital status, under a different law. The new Bill articulates prejudices associated with the overly nationalist government at the Centre. A puerile comment by the Foreign Affairs Minister that people have surrogate kids for “fashion and glamour” takes a dig at the Khans of Bollywood and reinforces the prejudice.

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