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Monday, December 22, 2014

Surrogate babies' fate still up in air

Special report: Scandal takes new twist as birth mums apply for custody, writes Lamphai Intathep

The 12 babies born to surrogate mothers and a Japanese father in a recent surrogacy scandal are still in state care.

    They are being cared for at the Pakkred Babies' Home in Pak Kret, Nonthaburi, where they fall under the supervision of the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security as the case unfolds.

On Aug 5, nine babies were found at a condominium in Bangkok's Bang Kapi district along with seven nannies and a pregnant Thai woman who later prematurely gave birth to a baby girl weighing just 1,700 grammes.

Police later linked two more babies to the surrogacy scandal.

The 12 babies were found to be born to nine Thai surrogate mothers and their Japanese businessman father, Mitsutoki Shigeta, through assisted reproductive technology.

Under Thai law, a mother is automatically regarded as the legal guardian of her child, said Saowanee Khomepatr, deputy director-general of the ministry's Department of Social Development and Welfare.

But the relationship between the babies, surrogate Thai mothers, and the Japanese father remains unclear, which means the question of who will care for the children in the long term is also unsettled.

The 24-year-old Japanese businessman allegedly fathered 15 babies via surrogates in Thailand. Mr Shigeta earlier took three of the babies out of the country.

No one knows when the legal proceedings are likely to come to an end.

According to the 2003 Child Protection Act, the state can keep the babies under its guardianship. No one has been allowed to visit the babies, except the surrogate mothers.

She said the children have received good health care, suitable for their age-related needs.

Of all the babies - eight boys and four girls, aged between two months and 14 months old - only the youngest, born prematurely in September, was allowed to stay with the surrogate mother in her hometown, under the close watch of the ministry's provincial staff.

As the case has dragged on, authorities say they are willing to consider requests by the surrogate mothers to care for the children.

Ms Saowanee said six of the surrogate mothers have recently expressed an intention to seek custody of their children, totalling nine. But she said the letters which were purportedly written by the six mothers in pursuit of their application appear dubious as they all share the same writing style.

Consent has yet to be granted even though a newborn is legally the legitimate child of the mother who carried the pregnancy.

As a mother herself, Ms Saowanee knows it's better for the babies to stay with their mother and that ideally, children should not be growing up in a foster home.

"But any decision must be made for the sake of the child's benefit," she said.

Factors including the mother's actual intention, family capacity, and financial readiness will be carefully assessed. An investigation is underway to find out if the eggs belonged to the surrogate mothers or donors.

Mr Shigeta recently sent his DNA sample through his lawyer, Kong Suriyamonthon, to Thai police to prove his paternity.

Tests showed that he fathered all 12 babies.

However, that is only part of the evidence needed.

A source said Mr Shigeta's lawyer also submitted the plans to raise all 12 surrogate babies.

But the deputy director-general said if the Japanese businessman wishes to father all the babies, he must take a DNA test in Thailand to clarify the relationship between him and the babies born to the surrogate mothers.

In the meantime, the babies have to stay at the ministry's baby home until they turn six years old.

Then, they will be separated to stay at foster homes for boys and girls and start school.

Asked about the possibility of providing a new family to the surrogate babies through adoption, Ms Saowanee said the adoption process cannot proceed if the children's status and legal ambiguity are not yet settled.

"There is nothing to worry about as we have experienced and professional staff to take care of them. Their rights will be protected," she said.


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