News / Asia

Surrogacy Hub Thailand to Restrict ‘Rent a Womb’ Services

Pattaramon Chanbua, 21, poses her baby boy Gammy at a hospital in Chonburi province, southeastern Thailand Sunday, Aug. 3, 2014.
Pattaramon Chanbua, 21, poses her baby boy Gammy at a hospital in Chonburi province, southeastern Thailand Sunday, Aug. 3, 2014.

Thailand is cracking down on a thriving but legally dubious industry where infertile foreign couples pay Thai women to bear children.

Any foreigners leaving Thailand with children born to surrogate mothers here must now produce a court order verifying legal custody.

That was confirmed Friday to VOA by the chief of Immigration Bureau’s Division 2, police major general Suwichpol Imjairach.

This comes after the leader of the military junta governing Thailand said negative publicity about surrogacy babies has led to the country being portrayed in a bad light. That prompted General Prayuth Chan-ocha to order further restrictions, but the immigration regulation has nonetheless caught some couples by surprise.

Thailand’s foreign ministry confirmed that at least one couple, from Australia, was stopped Thursday at a Bangkok airport and prevented from leaving the country with babies born to Thai women.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) reports that since Wednesday, two same-sex Australian couples and two American couples, in total, were halted at airport immigration counters in similar circumstances.

The junta -- which seized power in Thailand May 22 -- has proposed legislation to be quickly submitted to the appointed national legislative assembly that would strictly ban commercial surrogacy.

This is having an immediate chilling effect, as the chairman of the Medical Council of Thailand, Somsak Lolekha explained to VOA.

“Most doctors stopped doing this because they worry. It's not clear whether they will be put in jail or not as a criminal. We have to discuss with the government when they pass a law. It's our duty to help the infertile people to have kids,” said Somsak.

Under Thai medical regulations, surrogate mothers are only supposed to be compensated for expenses and she should be a relative of one of the potential parents.

At Thailand's Office of Prevention and Protection of Children, Youth, Elderly and Vulnerable Groups, the director general, Rarinthip Sirorat, has advice for foreign couples thinking of utilizing Thai surrogate mothers: “don't do it.”

“It has to be the relatives of the intended parents. So it is impossible for the foreign couples to have something like a close relative in Thailand,” said Rarinthip.

But the current medical regulations have allowed for surrogates not related to the genetic parents on a case-by-case basis, according to medical authorities. They say that loophole has been exploited, as the practice is so lucrative for Thai brokers and doctors. So they began marketing their services on the Internet in foreign languages to those looking for egg donors or surrogates.

This brought together fertile Thai women with many thousands of foreign couples, including gays, who cannot have their own children by conventional means.

The proposed law specifically calls for the surrogate mother to be a relative of a member of the couple seeking to have a child. No artificial insemination surrogacy would be permitted for same-sex couples or those who are not married.

Specialists in the field, including some key bureaucrats, are calling for a careful study among various interested groups before a new law is passed.

Somsak notes that if the legislation is put on a fast track it will call into question the fate of thousands of babies now being carried by Thai surrogates for foreigners.

“For those already pregnant, I think we have to help them for the sake of the baby. We have to do everything to help the child. They should go back to their genetic parents or their intended parents. And I think we have to try to help them so the parents can get that baby back to their home,” said Somsak.

Police on Thursday shut down one fertility clinic. They said the New Life IVF Clinic, located in a Bangkok high-rise building, was not licensed.

Online information on the clinic’s website, now removed, stated that the cost of a basic surrogacy service started at $30,000 - less than a third of what it would cost in the United States.

Costs in Thailand can soar to $50,000 for those requiring the donation of an egg.

Another clinic, the All IVF Center, was forced to close last week.

Critics have termed these clinics “baby factories.”

Authorities say they suspect one of the clinic’s clients was a wealthy Japanese businessman listed on 15 birth certificates as the father of babies born to surrogate mothers in Thailand.

Some of the babies have been taken out of Thailand and their apparent genetic father, 24-year-old Mitsutoki Shigeta, flew out of the country recently.

The co-founder of one fertility center, Mariam Kukunashvili, is quoted by the Bangkok Post as saying she turned away Shigeta after providing for him two surrogate mothers simultaneously because “he wanted more and more babies.”

Authorities say they have informed Shigeta’s lawyer that they desire to speak with the Hong Kong-based Japanese entrepreneur, although he has not been charged with any crime.

Media reports here says police want to question Shigeta as part of their probe into possible trafficking of children.

Meanwhile, two doctors are under scrutiny by the Medical Council of Thailand for involvement in a highly publicized case involving a boy born with Down syndrome. His Thai birth mother accuses the Australian surrogate parents of abandoning the boy but taking home the child’s twin sister, who was born healthy.

The children’s biological father, David Farnell, a convicted child sex offender, and his wife, Wendy, have contradicted the birth mother’s version of events. The Australian couple says doctors stated that the boy, known as Gammy, had a congenital heart condition and would not survive.

The representative in Thailand of the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA), Caspar Peek, said legislation should protect the rights of the child “first and foremost” and also provide protection for the surrogate mother, as well as the intended parents whose genetic material is being used.

“Once it becomes commercial then the motivations of women to accept this [commercial surrogacy] will change. You may get the wrong people into this; you may get very young girls, you may get very poor women, you may get women who are undernourished and of course that creates a risk to their health as well. And of course there are people who will make money out of this -- and then it's all not above board anymore,” said Peek.

As he put it, things become complicated when there are contracts involved.

“Contracts are often not enforceable. If you were to take a child out of Thailand, that is born by a surrogate mother without all the paperwork in order and you will take this child to Australia or to New Zealand or any other country - it's highly probable that the authorities in your home country will not accept this child,” said Peek.

The industry -- which also thrives in some eastern European countries (including Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bulgaria, Romania, Russia and Ukraine) -- expanded in Thailand after India last year banned such services for gay couples and required heterosexual mates to have been married for at least two years.

In addition to gay couples, Thailand is an attractive surrogacy market for Chinese and Indian parents seeking male heirs, who find most Thai clinics have no qualms about gender selection.

Additional reporting by Ron Corben.


Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

You May Like

Video Indiana Controversy Points to Divergent Notions of Religious Freedom

Gay-marriage opponents are looking for ways to maintain their beliefs in face of changing culture, one writer says More

UNICEF Denies North Korean Measles Outbreak

Agency dismisses Russian media report after government, WHO assurances More

Turkey Seen Taking Harder Stance Against Militant Kurds

Stance comes as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is being seen as moving closer to generals More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Indiana Controversy Highlights Divergent Meanings of Religious Freedomi
X
Jerome Socolovsky
April 01, 2015 1:41 AM
Indiana’s state government has triggered a nationwide controversy by approving a law that critics say is aimed at allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians. The controversy stems from divergent notions of religious freedom in America. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Indiana Controversy Highlights Divergent Meanings of Religious Freedom

Indiana’s state government has triggered a nationwide controversy by approving a law that critics say is aimed at allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians. The controversy stems from divergent notions of religious freedom in America. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Nigerians Welcome Buhari's Return to Power

Crowds of jubilant Nigerians nationwide have celebrated the return to power of former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari. The retired army general won this year's presidential election with more than 2 million votes more than incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan. Buhari's supporters hope he can strengthen the country's economy and security once he takes office in late May. Zlatica Hoke has this story.
Video

Video Report: State of Black America a 'Tale of Two Nations'

The National Urban League has described this year's "State of Black America" report as a "tale of two nations." The group's annual report, released earlier this month (March), found that under an equality index African Americans had only 72% parity compared to whites in areas such as education, economics, health, social justice and civic engagement. It’s a gap that educators and students at Brooklyn’s Medgar Evers College are looking to close. VOA's Daniela Schrier reports from the school.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Gamma Ray Observatory to Open Soon in Mexico

American and Mexican scientists have completed construction of the world's largest gamma ray observatory, situated high in central Mexico’s Sierra Negra Mountain. The observatory's huge array of water-based detectors will soon start discovering secrets about black holes and supernovas. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials Underway in West Africa

Ebola has claimed the lives of more than 10,000 people in West Africa. Since last summer, researchers have rushed to get anti-Ebola vaccines into clinical trials. While it's too early to say that any of the potential vaccines work, some scientists say they are seeing strong results from some of the studies. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Islamic State Prisoners Talk of Curiosity, God, Regret

Islamic State fighter, a prisoner of Kurdish YPG forces, asked his family asking for forgiveness: "I destroyed myself and I destroyed them along with me." The Syrian youth was one of two detainees who spoke to VOA’s Kurdish Service about the path they chose; their names have been changed and identifying details obscured. VOA's Zana Omer reports.
Video

Video Germanwings Findings Raise Issue of Psychological Testing for Pilots

More is being discovered about the co-pilot in the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 in the French Alps. Investigators say he was hiding a medical condition, raising questions about the mental qualifications of pilots. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.

VOA Blogs

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More