The Lok Sabha on Monday passed the Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill, 2019, which seeks to ban commercial surrogacy and allows only close relatives of infertile couples to volunteer for “ethical altruistic" reasons.

“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," Union health minister Harsh Vardhan said during the discussion on the bill.

“According to rough estimates, there are 2,000-3000 surrogacy clinics running illegally in India and a few thousand foreign couples resort to 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," said Harsh Vardhan.

The minister cited the 228th report of the Law Commission, which recommended that the government enact a legislation to ensure that commercial surrogacy is banned in this country and there is only restrictive surrogacy.

The bill also aims to constitute surrogacy boards at the national and state levels.

Only Indian couples who have been married for at least five years will be allowed to opt for surrogacy, according to the provisions of the bill. Couples who intend to opt for surrogacy should not abandon such children under any condition.

The bill aims to allow ethical altruistic surrogacy for infertile Indian married couples, within the age group of 23-50 and 26-55 years for females and males, respectively. A woman should be allowed to act as a surrogate mother only once, must be aged 25-35 years, and a close relative of the couple, besides being a married woman with a child of her own, according to the bill. It also ensures that there will be no exchange of money between the relative who volunteers for being a surrogate mother and the couple.

Several political parties, including the Congress, DMK, CPI(M), and the National Conference opposed the bill. However, B.V. Satyavathi from YSRCP supported the bill, saying that the infertility rate in the country was on a rise.

The bill, which was passed by a voice vote, also prohibits the sale and purchase of human embryos and gametes. The government has claimed that it will also prevent exploitation of surrogate mothers and children born through surrogacy.

In recent years, India emerged as a commercial destination for foreigners seeking surrogate mothers. There have been reports on unethical practices, exploitation of surrogate mothers, abandonment of children born out of surrogacy, and rackets involving intermediaries importing human embryos and gametes.

Women’s rights activists have supported the passage of the bill. “We welcome the passage of the Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill in the Lok Sabha today. It is based on the findings and policy recommendations of two research studies and one national-level, multi-stakeholder consultation conducted by CSR against commercial surrogacy and for formulation of a National Regulatory Board," said Manasi Mishra, head of the research division, Centre for Social Research (CSR).

The Union Cabinet had introduced the bill in July. This was passed by the 16th Lok Sabha, but lapsed after the dissolution of the House.

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