India eases planned surrogacy curbs after criticism

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India‘s cabinet on Wednesday approved a bill that would restrict the use of surrogate mothers to married couples and single women and allow payments only for medical expenses, seeking to curb exploitation.

The new bill replaces an earlier version that limited the service to infertile Indian couples, who could ask only a female relative. That version failed to clear the upper house of parliament, with critics saying it was too restrictive.

India is currently one of only a handful of countries where a woman can be paid to carry another’s child, making it a hub for surrogacy.

Women’s rights activists say that has put poor, uneducated women at risk of exploitation by the rich, and the government has been trying to crack down on unethical commercial practices. Surrogacy for foreigners was banned in 2015.

Women and children’s minister Smriti Irani said the new bill would ensure married Indian or Indian-origin couples and single, widowed and divorced women could still use a surrogate to carry their baby.

“If the woman is a widow or divorcee, she has the right to opt for surrogacy,” she said at a news conference.

The new bill incorporates recommendations from an upper house parliamentary panel, including increasing insurance cover for surrogates from 16 months to 36.

Until it clears parliament, India remains among a handful of places, including Russia, Ukraine and some U.S. states, where paid surrogacy is legal.

Full details of the bill were not immediately available and it was not clear whether single men and LGBT+ couples would be eligible. The ministry did not respond to the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s requests for clarification.

Over the years, surrogacy has found greater acceptance in India.

Earlier this month, Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty became the latest celebrity to have a baby through a surrogate.

Actors Aamir Khan and Shah Rukh Khan have also had children through surrogacy.

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