NEW DELHI: India has issued new rules barring foreign gay couples and single people from using surrogate mothers in order to become parents, according to a notice on the home ministry website.
Commercial surrogacy is a booming industry in India and in recent years the ranks of childless foreign couples have been swelled by gay partners and single people looking for a low-cost, legally easy route to parenthood.
The rules, circulated to Indian embassies late last year, say foreign couples seeking to enter into a surrogacy arrangement in India must be a "man and women (who) are duly married and the marriage should be sustained at least two years".
The directive adds the visa application must also state whether the couple's home country recognises surrogacy and give an assurance that the country will permit the entry of the child born from an Indian surrogate.
There have been several publicised cases of babies born out of cross-border surrogacy in recent years who have been trapped in citizenship limbo because their parents' countries refused to grant them passports.
Applicants seeking a surrogacy arrangement must also apply for a medical visa instead of a tourist visa according to the rules posted on the home affairs ministry website.
"Entering into surrogacy arrangement under any other visa not sought for surrogacy is punishable under the Indian law," added a notice on the websites of Indian consulates abroad.
The changes were not publicly highlighted and only came to light in the Indian media on Friday. While the rules were drawn up last year, they were circulated to Indian missions abroad in late 2012.
In recent years, India has become a popular destination for gay couples seeking children even though it remains a largely conservative country and only decriminalised consensual sex between homosexuals in 2011.
Accurate estimates of the turnover generated by surrogacy services are almost impossible to come by, but doctors and experts agree demand is growing rapidly.
The new visa rules come as draft legislation to regulate the industry has yet to be passed by parliament.
Critics have said lack of legislation governing surrogacy encourages "rent-a-womb" exploitation of young, poor Indian women.