National / Crime & Legal

Thai rent-a-womb tally hits 13; dad flees to Japan

Reuters, Kyodo, AP

Thai police said Friday that four more babies who might have been fathered by a Japanese businessman who just fled back to Japan have been located, bringing the total linked to the odd cache of infants found in Bangkok this week to 13.

The unnamed man, whom his lawyer claims is a rich businessman and the surrogate father of the babies, is 24 years old and has visited Thailand 65 times over the past two years, according to Thai immigration authorities.

His lawyer said the man actually resides in Hong Kong and local media reported that he departed Thailand for Macau early Thursday.

The discovery of the infants came after another high-profile case in which an Australian couple stand accused of abandoning a baby boy with Down syndrome to his Thai surrogate mother, while taking his healthy twin sister back to Australia, shining a wider spotlight on Thailand’s unregulated commercial surrogacy industry.

On Friday, police found four more babies linked to the Japanese man but did not give details about their health or say where they were found.

“He is the father of 13 surrogate babies and has been traveling in and out of Bangkok many times,” Thai Police Col. Napunwut Liamsanguan told Reuters, referring to the young Japanese mystery man.

The suspicious circumstances surrounding the cache of babies have raised suspicions they were being raised for cross-border human trafficking. But the lawyer of the man denied the possibility and said the businessman spends 200,000 baht (¥630,000) per month to care for the babies, which range in age from 1 month to 2 years.

According to Thai media, the Bangkok condo where nine babies were initially found and taken into police custody Tuesday is owned by the Japanese man, and the names of 12 babies are registered at the same address. When the lawyer pressed the father on the whereabouts of the three other babies named on the register, the father said they are in Japan, according to Thai media reports.

In the meantime, Thailand began pushing Thursday to ban commercial surrogacy, which is largely unregulated. Authorities say Thailand became a go-to destination for the business after well-off countries tightened their own laws.

Thai officials said Thursday that the draft of a law banning surrogacy has been submitted to the junta’s head of legal and justice affairs and will be forwarded to the newly established interim legislature for consideration next week.

“Now is good timing, as the steps (toward passing the law) have been completed,” Rarinthip Sirorat, an executive from the Social Development and Human Security Ministry, said at a news conference. “The purpose of this law is to give maximum benefits to the surrogate babies,” the executive said.

According to the draft, the new law will prohibit commercial surrogacy and those violating the law will face up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to 200,000 baht ($6,200). Agencies, advertisers or recruiters of surrogate mothers will face up to five years in jail and a fine of up to 100,000 baht ($3,100).

Surrogacy involves a woman who bears a child for someone else, often with an implanted embryo from biological parents who are unable to conceive a baby.

Legal doctrine is inconsistent. Countries such as India, Ukraine and Thailand have fairly lenient regulations and are popular for parents in developed countries looking for lower-cost surrogate mothers.

Thai authorities were prompted to look into the issue of commercial surrogacy after they learned of “Baby Gammy,” the ill baby boy being raised by his surrogate mother in eastern Thailand. The woman’s allegation that his Australian biological parents took home their healthy daughter and abandoned her twin, a blond, brown-eyed boy with Down syndrome and a congenital heart condition, sparked outrage worldwide.

Government agencies held four press conferences Thursday to explain Thai law and issues regarding surrogacy.

Thailand has 42 clinics and medical institutes and 240 doctors licensed to use assisted reproductive technology, using artificial means to achieve pregnancy, according to Boonruang Triruangworawat, the Health Service Support Department’s director-general.

“The assisted reproductive technology has existed in Thailand for a long time but now it’s become an issue because there are stricter regulations in other countries,” Boonruang said. “The parents have migrated to Thailand because Thailand does not actively go after the issue. They will now understand that the Thai law will be stricter.”