Thailand’s junta has pledged leniency in the cases of babies born to surrogate mothers, as it looks to toughen rules on the lucrative, but largely unregulated industry following a series of recent scandals.
Dozens, possibly hundreds, of foreign couples are thought to have been left in limbo after entering into surrogacy arrangements through clinics in the Southeast Asian country.
Thai prime minister-designate and army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha, who seized power in a coup three months ago, said in his weekly televised address late on Friday that the nation’s military rulers would move quickly to find “sustainable solutions.”
“We are concerned that Thai women who are already surrogates will not dare to consult doctors at hospitals while they are pregnant because they are afraid that they would be prosecuted,” he said.
“The clinics that hired them or asked them to do it have been closed, so it is dangerous for the babies,” added Prayuth, who on Thursday was picked as prime minister by the new, junta-appointed legislature and is awaiting royal endorsement.
“I have already ordered leniency on a case-by-case basis,” he added.
Commercial surrogacy is officially banned by Thailand’s Medical Council, but until recently even top fertility clinics were believed to offer the service.
The junta has vowed to introduce a new law that could result in 10 years’ imprisonment for anyone found guilty of involvement in the trade.
In the past few weeks, a number of fertility clinics have been raided and some have been closed down.
Thailand’s murky surrogacy industry has come under intense scrutiny following recent accusations that an Australian couple abandoned a baby born with Down’s syndrome, but took his healthy twin sister.
The couple have denied deliberately leaving the boy, called Gammy, with the surrogate mother, who was paid about US$15,000 to carry the twins.
In a separate case, police believe a Japanese man fathered at least 15 babies with surrogate mothers for unknown motives.
Earlier this month, a gay Australian couple were stopped from leaving Thailand with a baby because they had incomplete documents.
Thai immigration officials say they are unable to disclose exactly how many couples have been prevented from leaving Thailand with babies born to surrogates because they do not keep records.
Support group Surrogacy Australia says it knows of 100 couples who are currently going through the process in the kingdom, which has long striven to be a medical tourism hub.
Australia has asked Thailand to make “transitional arrangements” to help its citizens who have already entered into surrogacy arrangements.
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