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Thailand’s surrogacy boom: Global baby-making haven or traffickers’ paradise

Written by World Events

The idea of legalizing surrogacy services for foreign couples, including LGBTQ partners, promises rich benefits for Thailand’s medical industry – but has also triggered grave concerns about human trafficking risks.

“I am not against attracting the flow of foreign currency. But I would urge caution and also demand assurances that it [surrogacy for foreigners] will not leave Thailand labeled as a human-trafficking country,” said Prof. Dr. Kamthorn Pruksananonda, a lecturer in Obstetrics & Gynecology at Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Medicine.

Prof. Dr. Kamthorn Pruksananonda

The medical lecturer pointed out that the concern about the sale and exploitation of children born from surrogacy arrangements were so prominent that they often feature in reports to the United Nations General Assembly.

“Such arrangements may be connected to child pornography,” he said, highlighting one aspect of the dangers associated with surrogacy.

Kamthorn said Thai authorities teamed up with United States’ Homeland Security Investigations to crack down on an illegal multinational surrogacy gang in Thailand several months ago. Foreign security agencies see Thailand as a base for human traffickers exploiting surrogacy services, he added.

“Lax legal enforcement means illegal surrogacy services are still able to operate here,” he said.


Efforts to protect kids

In 2015, Thailand passed a law to protect children born through assisted reproductive technologies, to prevent foreigners from hiring Thai women to serve as surrogate mothers. Prior to the law’s enactment, such surrogacy services were widely available in Thailand.

“We drafted the Children Born through Assisted Reproductive Technologies Protection Act to plug legal loopholes. With so many foreigners coming to Thailand for surrogacy services, there was a risk of human trafficking,” Kamthorn said.

The medical expert sits on the committee for the protection of children born through assisted reproductive services, and also the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists’ committee on Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility.

During the passage of the new law, a scandal erupted over a Thai surrogate mother who was left struggling with the burden of raising a Down Syndrome baby – named Gammy – after the infant was abandoned by his biological Australian parents. The foreign couple left Thailand with only Gammy’s twin sister after medical tests confirmed she was healthy and did not have Downs.

The scandal deepened after an investigation revealed that the Australian father had been convicted twice of molesting girls. This new finding also raised questions about the ethics of gestational surrogacy.

Under Thailand’s current law, only Thai heterosexual couples married for more than three years can hire a surrogate to have their child. Commercial surrogacy serving foreign clients and LGBTQs is currently banned.

Penalties for illegal surrogacy under the new law are severe.

A surrogate mother faces up to 10 years in jail and a maximum fine of 200,000 baht if she joins an illegal surrogacy service. Those caught selling sperm or eggs are punishable by up to three years in jail and/or a fine of 60,000 baht. And an agent for illegal surrogacy services faces five years in jail and/or a fine of 100,00 baht.


Proposed changes

According to Dr. Sura Wisedsak, director-general of the Department of Health Service Support (DHSS), the scope of the law is set to be expanded so that Thai surrogacy services also cover foreign and LGBTQ couples.

Dr. Sura Wisedsak

He pointed to the financial benefits of this move.

“If 100 couples seek surrogacy services in Thailand, they will likely spend 100 million baht here.”

Sura said Thai services and expertise in surrogacy are second to none, so would attract plenty of foreigners.

“Our service fees are also cheaper,” he added.

Thailand currently has 115 providers of services related to infertility. Of these, 17 are state hospitals, 31 are private hospitals and 67 are private clinics.

Each year, they provide around 12,000 artificial insemination procedures and around 20,000 in vitro fertilization services. These form part of a growing surrogacy sector serving couples who are unable to conceive naturally. Authorities have so far approved 754 surrogacy applications – accounting for 97.2% of total requests. The success rate of these services is currently 48.53% – up from 46%.

Dr. Olarik Musigavong, a reproductive medicine specialist, is an enthusiastic supporter of legalizing surrogacy services for foreigners, explaining that it will generate income for Thailand and enrich the skills of Thais working in the field.

“The government could also use tax revenue from the expanded surrogacy sector to subsidize assisted reproduction for Thais who need but cannot afford such services,” he said.

Asked about the potential dangers of commercial surrogacy, Olarik said that if proper control measures were in place, human trafficking would not be a risk.

“If we legalize the services, illegal practices will fade. And with a legal process and clear registration, those involved won’t be able to abandon kids either,” he said.

In some countries, the commercial system is so well-established that there are even sperm/egg banks that pay donors, Olarik said.

DHSS deputy director-general Arkom Praditsuwan said to prevent human trafficking, couples seeking surrogacy services may be asked to prove their good financial status.

Dr. Olarik Musigavong


‘Illegal practices put surrogate moms at risk’

Kamthorn said numerous Thai women who volunteered to serve as surrogate mothers for underground operations have ended up receiving substandard care. They have been crowded together in condo apartments and sometimes medicated to produce more eggs than they should.

“A few months ago, a teenager ended up in an intensive care unit due to the practice of overdosing with medication. She nearly died,” he said, “Agents don’t give a damn. They just try to lower costs to maximize their profits.”

Thai advertisements looking for surrogate moms are easily found on the internet.

They typically offer 500,000 baht plus monthly allowances during the surrogacy period. The monthly pay usually ranges between 10,000 and 20,000 baht.

Underground surrogacy rings usually divide their operations into several parts, each handled by different units, making it difficult for authorities to investigate and prosecute.

The Department of Special Investigation says a recent case involved Chinese customers hiring an underground ring operating in Thailand and neighboring countries.

In Thailand, they used three clinics for prenatal care and child-delivery services. Investigators found the gang had well over 100 million baht in cash flow at the time they were arrested.

By Thai PBS World’s General Desk


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