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Go easy on surrogates, Australia asks

SUPALAK GANJANAKHUNDEE, KHANATHIT SRIHIRUNDAJ THE SUNDAY NATION

AUSTRALIA HAS asked Thailand to "go easy" on the enforcement of surrogacy rules during the period before a law is enacted for the benefit of mothers and babies for humanitarian reasons, Foreign Ministry permanent secretary Sihasak Phuangketkeow said yesterday.

In a bilateral meeting on the sideline of the Asean meeting in Nay Pyi Taw, Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop told Sihasak that her government has no policy to support commercial surrogacy and Thailand has full authority to handle the issue in accordance with domestic laws.

The use of surrogate mothers has become a bilateral issue between Thailand and Australia since news emerged that a baby boy born to a Thai surrogate was allegedly abandoned by an Australian couple after they found he had Down's syndrome. Inquiries into the case found the surrogacy was arranged by a clinic in Bangkok as a commercial arrangement.

Sihasak said the Australian minister Bishop told him that Canberra never supported any Australians travelling to Thailand to get surrogate children. But there may be ongoing cases in which surrogate mothers are still pregnant and Australia asked Thai authorities to treat them gently for humanitarian reasons, Sihasak said.

Asked what the Australian government could do about the case of a baby boy nicknamed Gammy born to a Chon Buri woman late last year, Sihasak said Australian charity groups had lent support hands to this case (collecting donations for the mother).

In the meeting, Sihasak also discussed political developments in Thailand. He said that Bishop, the Australian minister, expressed her understanding about developments and offered assistance for the reform process, if Thailand wanted that.

The Abbott government strongly criticised the coup and curtailed some military activities with Thailand after the military seized power on May 22. "But the meeting mostly focused on the future of relations," he said.

Journalists in Bangkok believe Thai surrogates could be carrying dozens of children for Australian couples.

Meanwhile, the Australian couple who allegedly left Gammy here with its surrogate mother will tell their side of the story publicly for the first time today (August 10) on the Australian TV show '60 Minutes'.

The couple will not be paid for their appearance but bosses of the programme will donate an undisclosed sum to the Hands Across the Water charity, which is raising money for Gammy's care.

The charity has reportedly raised A$245,000 (Bt7.3 million) to help manage the Down syndrome baby's treatment and future needs. It has allegedly affirmed that the money will not go to the surrogate mother.

In related news, police have asked for DNA tests on nine infants found in a Lat Phrao condominium and interviewed nannies caring for them and several of the surrogate mothers.

Officers have not decided if this case is human trafficking, saying they want to question the Japanese man who arranged surrogates to have the babies about his intent and subsequent actions, deputy police chief General Pol Gen Ake Angsananont said.

But other police said they suspect these babies are part of a racket.

Police have asked Japan for information about Shigeta Mitsutoki, 24, the man who allegedly fathered the babies via the Thai surrogates, and for help in locating him for questioning.

An informed source said Japanese media were in Cambodia to look for four infants Mitsutoki is believed to have already taken out of Bangkok, after learning he was an executive of four companies in Phnom Penh.

Meanwhile, the Department of Health Service Support will this week file two charges for violations of the Hospital Act 1998 against the operators of a fertility clinic on Wireless Road. The charges relate to operating without a proper licence (punishable by up to three years jail and/or a fine of up to Bt60,000); and allowing medical professionals to carry out procedures that breach the Medical Profession Act (punishable by up to a year in jail and/or a fine up to Bt20,000).

Immigration Division 2 chief Pol Maj Gen Suwitpol Imjairat yesterday called a meeting about Mitsutoki. Immigration police have found that Mitsutoki travelled in and out of Thailand over 60 times in recent years. He took four infants to Cambodia this and last year - a two-year-old boy with Japanese nationality and three infants who were Thai nationals.

Deputy city police chief Pol Maj Gen Chayut Thanathaweera said yesterday police interviewed three of the 14 surrogate mothers and asked Japan for the alleged father's details and whereabouts. He said police believed the surrogate pregnancies were part of a racket but investigators have yet to say it is human trafficking.

Thailand did not have a specific law to control surrogacy, so police would use other laws to stop the gang. For a start, the clinic involved would be charged for violations of the Hospital Act, Chayut said, adding that police were also probing 11 other clinics over unlicenced surrogacy services.

Department Of Health Service Support legal expert Chatree Pinyai said that, out of 45 clinics offering assisted reproductive treatment services, 12 allegedly provided unlicenced services and each clinic reportedly charged Bt900,000 per pregnancy.

Meanwhile, a police source said an unnamed surrogate mother of twin girls has admitted to getting paid Bt400,000 and said she gave birth at a private hospital in Bangkok.

The mother said her family understood her, and she had told her son that the babies in her belly weren't his siblings but someone else's kids that mum helped carry to birth.

The woman said she underwent a Caesarean section so she didn't see the twins' faces. An agent had showed her a photo of the twins but she felt they were not her babies.


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