When The Choice To Reproduce Is Ministry-Ruled

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#NoWombToRent

Commercial surrogacy has been a reality, if there hasn’t been any adherence to it. A lot of tribal and poor, destitute women rent out their wombs, in a bid to earn some livelihood, while employing the gift of nature quite generously. There’s a lot of humdrum regarding the act, many consider it ‘decent whoring’, ‘whoring of wombs’, while many think of it as a woman’s personal choice.

In a bid to regulate and curb such a booming business, which attracted a lot of foreign nationals as well Indian, the government has passed a Surrogacy Regulation Bill 2016. The Bill aims to curb the advent and booming trade of commercial surrogacy, thinking it to be an act that uses the body of women and invite further ridicule and objectification.

While allowing a stay on altruistic surrogacy under specific conditions, the fair and just government decided to ban commercial surrogacy completely.

As per the new Bill, the conditions to avail surrogacy have been narrowed down to only infertile couples, if the couples show a proven condition of infertility and have been married for 5 years. Only legally-wedded couple can have children through surrogacy. Foreign infertile couples and non-residential Indians are barred from surrogacy, so are homosexuals and live-in couples. A woman can be a surrogate mother only once in her lifetime and eligible couples who seek surrogacy for reproduction can also avail it only once.

The implementation of law will be overseen by Surrogacy Regulation Board which will be set up on Central and State level.

Surrogacy in India has led to complaints of many tribal women being exploited and this Bill aims to prevent exploitation of women, especially those in rural and tribal areas. Besides, the Bill promises to ensure parentage of children born out of surrogacy is legal and transparent, not having to bear the title of being ‘childless’.

The Bill seemed to have many loopholes. It fails to adhere to the immediate rise of black market that would be envisioned soon after the implementation of such a Bill. It throws open the black market and shuts its eyes to the fact that the demand for surrogacy exists, and exists by large. Though the exploitation is rife in such surrogate markets, banning it entirely would pose even a greater problem as the ailed mothers or would-be-parents won’t get much needed help.

India has indeed developed some sort of surrogate hub, and eventually with time, it evolved as a world hub for parents who can’t conceive. The only purpose the ban serves is to push commodities underground. Such an underground market will be bound by risks with elevated costs and corruption.

Instead of banning commercial surrogacy completely, we could have had better regulations that could have benefited surrogates mother and also the parents.

Also, by outlawing surrogacy for live in relationships, the Surrogacy Bill is discounting the legitimacy lent to live-ins by the Supreme Court which recognizes them as “akin to marriage” in everything from domestic violence laws to inheritance and property. Is the Bill bearing the burn of ethos we all so religiously follow in our country?

Was any surrogate mother asked or discussed with while the drafting of the Bill was under process? How easy is it to omit the people impacted by such a Bill, so as to ensure easy regulatory mechanism and less burden for the administrators?

Essentially, the right to regulate the womb and its outcome should be the choice of the woman bearing the child alone. If surrogacy is legal and voluntary and comes with protection of the law, women should be able to choose who they carry children for and why and whether they believe a cost is owed to them. Nationals or foreigners no bar.

The urge for a child cannot be subject to the moral judgment of politics and society, or be up for ease in administration. What it does need is a safe, regulated, legally binding environment and framework in which individual choices may be made- choice to rent out the womb or not.

Yugansha Malhotra

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The Viewspaper

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