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, Steven L Herman is the Voice of America Asia correspondent.

You May Like

India PM Modi's Party Distances Itself From Religious Conversions

BJP under fire for being slow to rein in hardline affiliate groups allegedly trying to promote Hindu-dominant agenda by luring Muslims and Christians to convert More

Anti-Whaling Group Found in Contempt of Court

Radical environmentalists who threw acid and smoke bombs at Japanese whalers in the waters off Antarctica continue their campaign to disrupt Japan's annual whale hunt More

UN's Ban Urges End to Discrimination Against Ebola Workers

Ban was speaking in Guinea on the second day of a whistle-stop tour aimed at thanking healthcare workers of the countries at the heart of the epidemic 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.
US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubansi
X
Sharon Behn
December 19, 2014 9:34 PM
For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubans

For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video Three Cities Bid for Future Obama Presidential Library

President Barack Obama still has two years left in his term in office, but the effort to establish his post-presidential library is already underway. The bid for the Obama Presidential Library is down to four locations in three states -- New York, Hawaii, and Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, each of them played an important part in the president’s life before he reached the White House.
Video

Video Cuba Deal is Major Victory for Pope’s Diplomatic Initiatives

Pope Francis played a key role in brokering the US-Cuba deal that was made public earlier this week. It is the most stunning success so far in a series of peacemaking efforts by the pontiff. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video Fears of More Political Gridlock in 2015

2014 proved to be a difficult year politically for President Barack Obama and a very good year for the U.S. Republican Party. Republican gains in the November midterm elections gave them control of the Senate and House of Representatives for the next two years -- setting the stage for more confrontation and gridlock in the final two years of the Obama presidency. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone has a preview from Washington.
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.

All About America

AppleAndroid