The fate of around 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.
By: Kelly Macnamara
February 27, 2011 / thaivisa.com
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.
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 $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 Myanmar nationals 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 currently 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 on Monday.
"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 health care 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 website, 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 $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.
Taiwan's Criminal Investigation Bureau had not been contacted by Thailand over the case when reached by AFP. Surrogacy is banned in the country but there have been reports of men paying foreign women to have their children.
Last May, police said three Taiwanese men had been arrested for illegally hiring Uzbek women as mothers for four babies because they thought mixed blood children were "cute".
In the upmarket Bangkok suburban housing estate, with manicured lawns and 24 hour security, there were a few people still working in an office at the modest house where police found nine of the Baby 101 women.
On the walls, among posters of Caucasian babies, hung lists of Vietnamese names, more than 20 in total. A whiteboard, written mainly in Mandarin, carried the English words "Ken's friend come" and what appeared to be a date in March.
"There were eight or nine Vietnamese women here. They came to Thailand because the medical service is better than their country," said a man, who did not give his name and claimed to be a translator. But he admitted none of them was pregnant when they arrived.
Down the street a second property, where another four women were found, was closed and quiet.
Two doors away, a house name plate suggested they may have been living within shouting distance of a policeman.