MUMBAI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Maharashtra has become the first state to extend full maternity benefits to women who have babies using a surrogate mother, a state official said.
All women in government jobs who have a baby using a surrogate mother can now take 180 days of maternity leave, putting them on an equal footing with women who conceive naturally, the official said. The leave can only be taken once.
Surrogate mothers usually hand over the babies to the clinic or the genetic mother a few days after giving birth.
"It doesn't make a difference whether the child is conceived naturally or through a surrogate - the woman still has to look after the child," said B.J. Gadekar, a deputy secretary in the state's finance department. "We want to treat them equally."
India opened up to commercial surrogacy in 2002, and is among just a handful of countries and a few U.S. states where women can be paid to carry another's genetic child through a process of in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) and embryo transfer.
Surrogacy motherhood remains a sensitive topic, and the government last year banned foreigners from using Indian surrogates, hurting India's lucrative $400-million-a-year business with over 3,000 fertility clinics.
Most women's rights groups in India are critical of the surrogacy industry, saying fertility clinics are nothing more than "baby factories" for the rich.
But Sakina Bohura at Akshara Centre, a non-profit focused on gender rights in Mumbai, said the Maharashtra decision would help women who are forced to opt for surrogacy in order to have children.
"It's a recognition that surrogacy is a valid choice for these women," she said. "It's a very progressive stance by the Maharashtra government."
(Reporting by Rina Chandran, editing by Tim Pearce. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)
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