BANGKOK – Thailand’s “baby factory” scandal has widened with revelations a suspected human trafficker fathered 15 babies through 11 surrogate mothers.
Mitsuoki Shigeta, 24, a client of the most popular surrogacy clinic in the Thai capital for Australians, is believed to have fathered nine babies aged six months to one year taken from a Bangkok condominium last week whom DNA tests show were fathered by one man.
Records in Bangkok show that 15 children have been registered as children of Mr Shigeta, who left Thailand within hours of police raiding the condominium and finding the babies and a pregnant Thai woman.
Four babies, two of whom are twins, were taken out of Thailand by Mr Shigeta before the scandal broke amid a crackdown on commercial surrogacy in Thailand that was prompted by a Fairfax Media report on baby Gammy’s plight.
Police revealed they have just discovered twins born at a Bangkok hospital and another possibly 16th baby born to a Thai surrogate mother who are linked to Mr Shigeta.
Thailand’s deputy national police chief Acek Angsananont said the priority now is the welfare of the babies who are being cared for in a government-funded home
He said Mr Shigeta was involved in an activity “breeding a large number of children without love or bonding, which may lead to damage in society.”
Meanwhile, questions have been raised in Thailand about why Australian government agencies continued with policies to allow hundreds Australians seeking babies through surrogacy in Bangkok to become vulnerable to human trafficking charges under Thai law.
In January 50 Israeli couples who had hired Thai women as surrogates were blocked from taking their children home after the Israeli government, worried about Thai laws granting parental rights to the Thai surrogate, declined to issue visas for the children.
Israel was worried that removing the Thai-born children from their birth country could be construed as kidnapping.
Queensland, NSW and the ACT have specific laws banning people going overseas for commercial surrogacy but no Australian has ever been prosecuted for entering into a commercial surrogacy arrangement overseas.
Australia’s foreign minister Julie Bishop and officials of the Australian embassy in Bangkok have appealed to Thailand’s strict military rulers to allow a moratorium for up to 150 Australian couples who have entered into existing surrogacy arrangements, so they will be able to take their babies home.
About 50 of them were clients of ALL IVF Centre, the clinic used by Mr Shigeta which was forced to close last Friday.
Under the crackdown Thai authorities have declared they will treat commercial surrogacy as human trafficking until a law is passed in Thailand’s military-dominated parliament that provides for up 10 years jail for violating surrogacy laws.
At least one Australian couple attempting to take their baby out of Thailand has been turned away at Bangkok airport.
Many of the Australians, some of them same-sex couples, who have been left in limbo, are deeply distressed by the situation they have found themselves in after believing they were not doing anything illegal.
Thailand became the go-to country for commercial surrogacy because there were no laws dealing specifically with the industry.
The most popular way for foreign couples to take their babies was for the surrogate mother to renounce her parental rights and offer the name of the intended father to register the baby’s birth certificate.
Thailand’s military rulers have given no public indication they will agree to a moratorium while medical officials push for charges to be laid against the doctors running ALL IVF and those involved in the birth of Gammy and his twin sister.
Six-month old Gammy, who has Down syndrome and a heart condition, was left behind in Thailand by his Australian biological father David Farnell, a convicted child sex offender, prompting a furore in Thailand and Australia.
Australian officials have declined to provide any detail about how Mr Farnell and his wife Wendy obtained permission from Australian agencies to take Gammy’s sister Pipah to Australia, citing privacy reasons.
The Bangkok Post quoted Thai officials as saying there were only two ways Pipah could have being allowed to leave Thailand.
They say Mr Farnell might have obtained Australian nationality for the girl because he did not take a Thai birth certificate to certify her nationality to the Australian embassy.
Alternatively Pipah might have been given a Thai birth certificate and a Thai passport.
Mr Farnell may have then obtained an Australian visa to take her to Australia.
Meanwhile, Thailand’s military government gave preliminary approval on Wednesday for a draft law to make commercial surrogacy a criminal offence, following a spate of dramatic surrogacy scandals in the past two weeks.
The case of an Australian couple accused of abandoning their Down syndrome son with his Thai surrogate mother unleashed an international outcry over the “wombs for hire” business that rights groups say preys on poor and vulnerable women in countries such as India and Thailand.
“The NCPO has approved a surrogacy draft law,” Pattamaporn Rattanadilok na Phuket, a spokesman for the military government, officially known as the National Council for Peace and Order, told reporters on Wednesday. “We will punish through criminal law those who practice and are involved in commercial surrogacy,” the spokesman added.”Those who hire surrogate mothers or make this a commercial business will be violating criminal law.”
The law is awaiting final approval from the National Legislative Assembly and would then have to be formally endorsed by Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej. It is unclear how long final approval will take.