New Delhi : Facing criticism over its draft surrogacy bill, the government today said it is open to incorporating suggestions but insisted that some of its key provisions, including putting a stop to abandonment of children and exploitation of women, are “non-negotiable”.
Union Health Minister J. P. Nadda also dismissed criticism that government was trying to impose moral values on citizens, saying it is about “righteousness” and the technological advancements in this area have to be used in the “right perspective”.
“This (bill) is an attempt to stop commercial surrogacy. It has been approved by the Cabinet. It will now go to the Parliamentary Standing Committee. Interactions will take place and suggestions will come to the government. We will take note of them. Then it will go to the Parliament.
“Discussions will take place there. So open to idea is in the sense…this is the direction we have taken. It is our responsibility to save the mothers by stopping exploitation. To take it to its ultimate end, whatever good idea or suggestions will come, we are open to it,” Nadda told reporters.
The Union Cabinet recently gave its nod to the introduction of the Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill, 2016 in Parliament, which seeks a complete ban on commercial surrogacy and allowing only legally-wedded Indian couples to opt for children through it.
“Non-negotiable is exploitation of women should not happen, abandonment of children should not take place,” Nadda said. The proposed bill also proposes a bar on unmarried couples, single parents, live-in partners and homosexuals from opting for surrogacy.
“It’s not a question of imposing moral values, its a question of righteousness. Technological advancement has to be used in the right perspective. “Proven exploitation (of women) has been there, children have been abandoned and there was no regulation. We have tried to come out in that direction,” Nadda said when asked whether the government is trying to impose moral values.
On the proposed provision that only “close relatives” of couples will be allowed to be surrogate mothers, Nadda said, “This bill has got the basic framework of what we accept and what we do not. Under this, opting for a family friend does not come. We will deliberate while framing rules, how far we can go (on widening the ambit).
Nadda said approval by the Cabinet is the first stage and the government has shown its intention to see to it that commercial surrogacy does not take place while it has also tried to give alternatives to it so that the needy can take advantage of this scientific advancement.
“Basic objective is commercial surrogacy should stop.
What are the alternatives to that, we have tried to give it.
There should be no exploitation of women and abandonment of children should stop.
“This is the central focus. For this, whatever good suggestions will come, they are okay,” he said, adding that the bill is a “progressive” step.
The bill has a provision for a jail term up to ten year and a fine of Rs 10 lakhs for violations, such as abandoning the child and opting for commercial surrogacy.
With the surrogacy bill approved by the Cabinet, officials indicated that the Assisted Reproductive Technology bill (ART) bill may also be soon taken up as it is in the final stages. IVF, sperm and ovum banks may also be included in it, officials said.
On how the IVF clinics will be monitored, Nadda said the bill has the provision of establishing a national surrogacy as well as state board apart from having an appropriate authority which will monitor the compliance of all the provisions and anybody can complain to the board.
Nadda also dismissed criticism that in certain cases physically challenged children are discriminated against when parents opt for another child through surrogacy and said physically challenged children will get all their rights.
Nadda said providing compensation to mothers in case of emergencies is also a good suggestion and the government is open to the idea.
Asked how the government reached the conclusion that the Indian couple have to be married for five years to be eligible to opt for surrogacy, Nadda said 5 years is a “reasonable” time for couples to be settled.
“We have kept a reasonable time for couples, both for them to settle and stabilise. Proven infertility also takes time,” he said.
On why single people have not been allowed, the minister said that there have been cases where child has been abused and therefore having a strong family institution is very essential.
On being asked whether the definition of family for the government changes with each bill, he said adoption laws also also need changes and they will be taken up later but the definition of family does not differ.
On the bar on foreigners as well as NRIs and PIOs who hold Overseas Citizens of India (OCI) cards from opting for surrogacy in the proposed bill, officials said there were certain issues highlighted by the External Affairs Ministry like issuance of visa for some countries and disappearance of the person after abandoning the child.