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Hundreds of Foreign Couples Panic in Rent-A-Womb Scandal

Hundreds of Foreign Couples Panic in Rent-A-Womb Scandal

By Richard S. Ehrlich
20 August, 2014

BANGKOK, Thailand -- The secretive, uncontrolled incubation of hundreds of babies by rent-a-womb women, and hundreds of foreign customers, now involves 30 abandoned infants and a hunt for a Japanese man who allegedly inseminated a dozen mothers.

Police discovered a batch of 21 surrogate babies -- 12 boys and nine girls -- who are thought to be less than one year old.

They were clustered with unrelated nannies in the same Bangkok condominium where police on August 5 found nine other similarly abandoned surrogate infants in another apartment.

Police said they seized documents indicating foreigners from western nations and east Asia were involved in spawning the 21 babies, and buying parental rights through murky surrogacy deals.

Worried over international perceptions that Thailand is being exploited by human traffickers, Bangkok's coup-installed military junta is finalizing legislation to ban the multi-million-dollar surrogacy industry.

"We will punish, through criminal law, those who practice and are involved in commercial surrogacy," a junta spokeswoman told journalists on August 13.

"Those who hire surrogate mothers, or make this a commercial business, will be violating criminal law," said Pattamporn Rattanadilok.

Under a draft of the proposed law, couples must be married and the surrogate mother cannot be involved for commercial profit.

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The surrogate mother would also need to be a blood relative -- but not a parent or descendent -- and must have previously given birth.

The new "Protection of Children Born as a Result of Assisted Reproductive Technologies Bill" would rule that the couple who requests the birth -- even if they use donated sperm or eggs -- will become the legal parents.

The Australian government and other foreign officials are now begging Bangkok to allow Thai surrogate mothers -- currently pregnant -- permission to give birth and not be prosecuted, and let those babies be legally adopted by their foreign customers.

Officials fear many of those women may now consider abortions, which are illegal in this Buddhist-majority country, or give birth and dump the babies in orphanages because the women are too poor to care for them.

Hundreds of foreign couples are reportedly panicking because they are involved in secretive, poorly documented, unregulated deals with surrogacy agencies using mothers in various stages of pregnancy.

"We are asking for a transitional arrangement to assist 200 Australian couples who, since last year, started to have babies with surrogate Thai mothers," Australian Ambassador to Thailand, James Wise, told the Bangkok Post on August 15.

Under existing Thai law, babies born to any Thai woman -- including a surrogate -- immediately becomes a Thai citizen, and the mother who gave birth is its legal parent.

Foreigners who used their own or someone else's sperm or egg, and paid for surrogate births, would need a Bangkok court-approved adoption permit, plus their own embassy's permit, to take those infants.

"We have heard that some hospitals and clinics have refused to provide medical care to the surrogate mothers, for fear of being implicated in illegal surrogacy services," said the Welfare Department's director-general Yanee Lertkrai on August 17.

A Japanese man, Mitsutoki Shigeta, allegedly took three babies overseas during the past two years, but apparently fearing arrest for human trafficking, he recently abandoned nine infants and one developing fetus.

Investigators want to know if Mr. Shigeta is also connected to the recent find of 21 infants.

An alarmed fertility clinic official reported Mr. Shigeta to Interpol last year, but it was unclear if that resulted in any action.

"In spite of the fact he is already expecting six babies, he again requests from us to make more and more babies and to provide him with more and more surrogate mothers," Mariam Kukunashvili wrote to Interpol in August 2013.

"He freezes sperm very frequently and says he is going to have 10 babies per year and wants to make sure he has sufficient frozen sperm," Ms. Mariam warned Interpol, stressing "something is very wrong here."

Ms. Mariam co-founded New Life Global Network fertility agency in Bangkok, and her report to Interpol was published in the Bangkok Post on August 14.

She admitted providing two surrogate mothers simultaneously to the wealthy Japanese man last year.

One mother birthed twins, and the other bore a single baby, she said.

A photograph shot by Thailand's Immigration Department of Mr. Shigeta,
24, at Bangkok's international airport passport control booth – plus his Japanese passport identification page -- were published by local media after he departed on August 7 to Macau, near Hong Kong.

Investigators discovered the nine infants on August 5 in the Bangkok condominium along with Thai female nannies.

Police said a pregnant Thai woman in the condominium told them she was inseminated in an arrangement involving Mr. Shigeta.

Authorities want to compare Mr. Shigeta's DNA to all 30 abandoned infants, plus the developing fetus in one pregnant surrogate.

DNA from the nine infants has already been collected for comparison, according to the Social Development and Welfare Department.

Those children include six boys and three girls, aged two weeks to two years.

Medical personnel alleged Mr. Shigeta may have arranged multiple in-vitro fertilizations using his sperm, because more than a dozen birth certificates reportedly listed him as the father.

Some of the nine infants appear to look quite different from one another, however, raising the possibility that other sperm may have been used.

The Japanese Embassy in Bangkok declined to publicly comment.

Earlier in August, a Thai surrogate mother said an Australian couple recently rejected the baby boy she gave birth to, because he suffered Down syndrome, but they took his healthy twin sister.

Australians David and Wendy Farnell denied the surrogate mother's story and insisted they wanted both twins but the woman refused to release the boy.

According to court records unearthed by reporters last week, Mr. Farnell was convicted in Australia of sexually abusing three Australian girls in the 1990s, prompting fresh concern about why Australian officials allowed him to take custody of the baby girl.

The baby boy, named Gammy, is now seven months old and remains in Thailand while his sister is in Australia with the couple.

"I do not understand how she could leave the country, because she is the child of the surrogate mother," said Wanchai Roujanavong, director-general of the Office of Attorney General's International Affairs Department.

"The Australian Embassy and Immigration Division should help explain this matter," Mr. Wanchai said.

Gammy and his surrogate mother Pattharamon Chanbua, 21, have become a media sensation in Australia and on Internet.

About $200,000 in donations resulted from an online "Hope for Gammy" campaign, started by unidentified "friends of Gammy".

***

Richard S. Ehrlich is a Bangkok-based journalist from San Francisco,
California, reporting news from Asia since 1978, and recipient of Columbia University's Foreign Correspondent's Award. He is a co-author of three non-fiction books about Thailand, including "Hello My Big Big Honey!" Love Letters to Bangkok Bar Girls and Their Revealing Interviews; 60 Stories of Royal Lineage; and Chronicle of Thailand: Headline News Since 1946. Mr. Ehrlich also contributed to the final chapter, "Ceremonies and Regalia," in a new book titled King Bhumibol Adulyadej, A Life's Work: Thailand's Monarchy in Perspective.

His websites are

http://asia-correspondent.tumblr.com

http://www.flickr.com/photos/animists/sets

https://gumroad.com/l/RHwa

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