Hong Kong man says he fathered 12 surrogate babies in Thailand
Human trafficking suspect admits that he is the father of three babies already in Japan after Thai police discover nine surrogate infants
A Hong Kong-based man suspected by Thai police of possible involvement in human trafficking now claims to have fathered 12 children through surrogacy, three more than previously thought, reports said yesterday.
Following the discovery in a Bangkok condominium of nine surrogate infants and toddlers believed to share the same Japanese biological father, the man - named by Thai media as Mitsutoki Shigeta - reportedly told his lawyer there were three more babies already in Japan.
Thai police have determined that the 24-year-old man did depart from Bangkok International Airport with a baby in both March and July, sources said.
His lawyer said the man - who lives in Hong Kong - has said that the children in Bangkok, aged between one month and two years old, were all his offspring born through surrogacy. The lawyer said his client spent 200,000 baht (HK$48,000) per month to raise them.
Thai police suspect the man may be engaged in human trafficking, and had the children in order to sell them. His lawyer denies the allegation.
Records show that the man, who left Thailand on Thursday for Macau, has visited Thailand 65 times over the past two years.
Surrogacy is not strictly regulated in Thailand, and many foreigners go there for surrogates, drawn by both the relatively low cost and high-quality health care available there.
But surrogacy has become a hot issue in Thailand in the wake of reports about an Australian couple accused of abandoning their baby with his Thai surrogate mother after discovering the child had Down's syndrome - and taking home his healthy twin.
The suggestion that the Australians wanted to raise only the healthy child and left her brother, who also has a congenital heart condition, with the surrogate mother, Pattaramon Chanbua, sparked outrage.
Couples seek surrogacy away from home for legal and financial reasons. Some nations tightly restrict surrogacy, or ban it. Others have no surrogacy laws, though medical boards often deal with it in their codes of ethics.
Laws vary widely, and there is no guarantee that a contract - or the child - will be recognised in another country.
In Thailand, wealthy couples from Hong Kong, Taiwan and Australia - where commercial surrogacy is banned - were major customers, said Nandana Indananda, a Bangkok lawyer who headed a project to draft a Thai surrogacy law submitted on Thursday to the country's military junta for consideration.
India has also emerged as a major centre for low-cost surrogacy thanks to its skilled doctors, medical infrastructure and vast population of poor women willing to act as surrogates. A full-term surrogate pregnancy costs US$18,000 to US$30,000 in India, with about US$5,000 to US$7,000 going to the surrogate. India legalised commercial surrogacy in 2001, but has just a handful of regulations governing the US$1 billion-a-year industry.
Rights activists say this has led to widespread exploitation. "Women who miscarry are not paid anything at all in many cases," said Ranjana Kumari, director of the New Delhi-based Centre for Social Research.
"There is a dark side to this business," acknowledged a Thai employee of the agency that arranged the deal involving Gammy, the abandoned Down's syndrome baby. "But most of the time I have seen happiness."
After India stopped offering surrogacy services to single women and same-sex couples, Australians turned to Thailand, said Rachel Kunde, of the advocacy group Surrogacy Australia, and the mother of two children born to surrogates.
Simple economics often dictate where babies are born. "If they want a lot of contact with an English-speaking surrogate, then they're going to go to America, but that's a very expensive process," she said.
India and Thailand are cheaper and closer to Australia than the US. The cost in Asia averages US$70,000; in the US, it's US$150,000.
Chinese laws ban medical facilities and personnel from performing surrogacy services, but there is no clear law against private arrangements.