The fate of about nine unborn children hangs in the balance as Thai authorities weigh what to do with the offspring of Vietnamese women freed from an illegal baby breeding ring in Bangkok.
A total of 14 women, half of them pregnant, were freed on Wednesday from an operation using them as surrogates for wealthy childless couples overseas who placed orders for newborns online.
Campaigners fear for the future of the infants who are born to desperate women — perhaps not their biological mothers — and into a legal grey area, with Thailand still mulling the ramifications of the case.
“There is a risk that those children might end up as stateless, that they won’t get citizenship anywhere,” said Benedict Phillips, Asia strategy director at Save The Children.
Thai Public Health Minister Jurin Laksanawisit has described the gang, which operated under the name Baby 101, as “illegal and inhuman” and suggested some of the women had been raped.
A few were offered up to US$5,000 per baby, but others said they had been tricked into the scam, said police, who have arrested four Taiwanese, one Chinese and three Burmese in connection with the operation. One 35-year-old Taiwanese woman was arrested on suspicion of human trafficking.
In Thailand couples can only use a surrogate if she is a blood relation and is not paid. The seven pregnant women are staying at a shelter north of Bangkok.
“They are between 12 weeks and eight months pregnant and we found two of the women were carrying twins — 20 weeks and eight months old,” said Paskorn Chaivanichsiri, director of a state-run hospital where they have been treated.
Two have requested abortions, although the procedure is only legal under Thai law in cases of rape or where the mother’s health is at risk.
Phil Robertson of New York-based Human Rights Watch said Thailand had “excellent” social care, but stressed victims should be able to decide their own future.
“The women should be allowed the time to get over the shock and get their heads straight about what they want to do. They might not want to go back with another mouth to feed,” he said.
Authorities want to send the women to Vietnam along with the babies, said police Colonel Chalermpol Jintarat of the immigration department, after a top-level meeting with health officials on Friday.
Negotiations with Vietnamese officials are due to be held today.
“To ascertain that the baby is not related to the mother, we have to have a DNA test, which we need to discuss with the Vietnamese embassy first,” he said.
Phillips said Thailand has taken steps to protect the offspring of its many illegal migrants, but these children are not given Thai nationality and are largely excluded from the country’s healthcare system.
“It is an extreme example of a much more common phenomenon of undocumented migrants who flee to escape poverty and find themselves without the protection of the law,” he said.
Nearly 40 women, who are identified only by a numbered code, are pictured on a Web site, www.baby-1001.com, believed to be run by the gang.
The “eugenics” surrogacy service, from egg and sperm donation to the delivery of a baby, is advertised for US$32,000 and appears to be aimed at Taiwanese customers.
Offices were listed in Bangkok, Phnom Penh in Cambodia and Vietnam.
“These four governments should be cooperating to smash this ring,” Robertson said.