The Indian Foreign Minister has intervened on social media in the case of a British couple who face having to leave the country without their surrogate-born child.
India's Foreign Minister, Sushma Swaraj – an advocate against commercial surrogacy – offered to extend the couple's visa, and has called on the UK Government to grant a passport to the child, after the couple brought to light delays in issuing a passport.
The British couple involved, Chris and Michele Newman, gave birth to their child, Lily, through a surrogacy arrangement in Mumbai, using Mr Newman's sperm and a donor egg. However, concerns arose as they approached the expiry date of their visas but had not yet received the child's passport, which they had applied for on 3 June. The couple said they were faced with the prospect of leaving their baby daughter in an orphanage.
'We have already been told twice now by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office that we should be prepared to leave Lily,' the couple said in a petition on change.org. 'It is madness that UK Government and HMPO [British passport office] is so willing to safeguard the well-being of a baby applicant to ensure that it hasn't been trafficked, that it is happy for that child to be left without its parents in a foreign country with a complete stranger.'
The news prompted Swaraj to take to Twitter in defence of the couple. 'Orphanage is not an option for baby Lily,' she tweeted, adding: 'We will help you with extension of your visa.'
Swaraj, who has been involved in finalising a draft bill to prohibit commercial surrogacy and ban foreign couples from using surrogacy in India (see BioNews 866), also tweeted: 'Commercial surrogacy is banned in Britain. Will British government give a British passport to this surrogate baby?'
While making a profit from arranging surrogacy or advertising for surrogacy is banned in the UK, India has gained a reputation for commercial surrogacy, with the industry estimated to be worth almost 900 million rupees. However, there are growing concerns over the exploitation of poorer women who are having children for wealthy, foreign couples.
In response to this, the Indian Government introduced the Surrogacy Regulation Bill in August 2016. The new legalisation proposes a complete ban on commercial surrogacy in the country and will allow only Indian couples married for at least five years to have children through surrogacy, excluding homosexuals and single parents.
The bill also says that potential surrogates can only be chosen from among 'close relatives' of 'authorised couples'. The Newmans' surrogate became pregnant before the draft legislation was introduced.
Speaking to the Mirror in response to the Newmans' case, the UK Home Office said: 'The welfare of children is paramount in surrogacy cases. HM Passport Office needs to ensure that the child has a claim to British nationality, that surrogacy laws are adhered to, and that the child's best interests are protected.'
The Telegraph reports that the Newmans have since been contacted by the UK passport office and they 'feel encouraged' that they will now receive the passport on time.