Sat, Apr 30, 2011 - Page 8 News List

Thai rescue has unintended victims

By Nicolas Lainez

The Thai and Vietnamese governments have hailed the recent rescue of 15 Vietnamese women working as commercial surrogate mothers in Thailand as another victory in the fight against human trafficking in Southeast Asia. However, for some of the surrogates, clients and babies involved, the rescue mission may have unwittingly plunged them into a quagmire of uncertainty and doubt.

On Feb. 23, a surrogate claiming to be a captive called the Vietnamese embassy in Thailand asking for assistance. The nonprofit organization Alliance Anti Trafic (AAT) and the Thai authorities responded to the call by raiding two boarding houses in Bangkok and rescuing 13 women (two others were in a hospital where they had just delivered babies).

A media frenzy broke out with more than 60 Asian newspaper reports highlighting the harsh conditions forced upon the “deceived women,” such as coercion, imprisonment, confiscation of passports and rape.

Thai officials immediately labeled the 15 women victims of human trafficking instead of illegal immigrants or criminals involved in illegal commercial surrogacy. They then initiated the relevant institutional procedures: moving them to a shelter, conducting a criminal investigation, arranging a court hearing and organizing repatriation to Vietnam.

Although this was the best short-term solution, it has stirred up a whole new set of uncertainties surrounding the future of all the parties involved.

AAT has uncovered insights about the complexity of the case through its ongoing investigation. Of the 15 women rescued, four claimed to have been deceived with promises of lucrative jobs in Thailand by the Taiwanese company Baby-101 Eugenic Surrogate. Among them, one woman claimed that the company manager raped and impregnated her. These women are all satisfied with the outcome of the raid and wish to return to Vietnam.

The other 11 admitted to the police that they had voluntarily agreed to be surrogates in exchange for US$5,000 a baby. Not only are they distressed about the highly publicized rescue, they are also upset that Vietnamese newspapers revealed their names. This has jeopardized the safety of the women and their relatives in Vietnam.

In interviews with AAT, these women said they had not asked to be rescued.

“I will raise the baby once I am back in Vietnam. In any case, it comes from me. However, if the parents want it, I will give it to them if they respect the agreement they signed,” one woman said.

In fact, the main concern of four women who had already delivered their babies was handing the babies over to the clients in exchange for the agreed upon money. From their perspective, the rescue wrecked their plans and placed them in a deplorable situation.

Baby-101 Eugenic Surrogate offered a menu of services: Full surrogacy, which involved couples supplying their sperm and ovum for in vitro fertilization, with the possibility of choosing their infant’s gender for US$32,000; and partial surrogacy, which involved providing sperm for artificial insemination, in which case the surrogate mother would hand the baby over upon its birth.

As a bonus, clients could choose from a range of “selected egg donors” of “Oriental” and “Caucasian” heritage profiled on the company’s Web site, who were photographed in skimpy, tight-fitting clothes.

The company declares on its Web site that surrogacy in Taiwan is legal, but illegal for commercial purposes. This is indeed the case, but it goes on to claim implicitly that commercial surrogacy is legal in Thailand, when in fact there is no legislation (a draft bill is awaiting parliamentary approval), a fact that has created a legal loophole for business-minded opportunists.

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