Wombs for hire: Aussie couples flock to Thailand to find surrogates

‘James’ and his partner ‘Mikey’ (not their real names) are getting to know their newborn baby girl.
The men have been in a committed relationship for 5 years. They wanted a family – so much – they had to break the law to create it.
“We just went for it,” says James. “We wanted a family and we wanted to get it done and we just went over there and went full steam ahead and done what we needed to do. “
“When it comes down to it, people are going to do what they need to do to get their families.”
Thousands of Australians like James and Mikey struggle to start a family – making surrogacy an attractive option.
Commercial surrogacy or paying a woman to carry your baby is a criminal offence in Australia carrying severe penalties including fines of at least $100,000 and/or a jail term in some states. Tough adoption laws also make it near impossible for gay couples to go down that path.
Because of the issues in Australia many hopeful parents are flocking to Thailand where the business of made to order babies is booming.
“We had two surrogates. Both my partner and I did it at the same time. We were going into it, looking at it as if we can get a biological child each but one of the surrogates was a positive and the other surrogate was a negative, and the surrogate that was positive was positive with twins but we lost one quite early on in the pregnancy”, says James.
“With the surrogates they gave us a lot of information…a whole profile of their medical history…down to personality traits and everything. We got to meet them both before the whole process started which was quite an amazing experience. It was beautiful.”
A trip to Thailand to start your family sounds like the perfect solution but it’s not as simple as it may seem. It’s an unregulated industry vulnerable to exploitation.
“The government and the Prevention of Human Trafficking Act view commercial surrogacy as a form of human trafficking,” says Saowanee Khomepatr, Director at Thailand’s Ministry of Social Development and Human Security. “Right now, it’s illegal so it’s a form of exploitation”
The entire process from sperm, eggs, embryo to birth costs around $50,000. It’s unclear how much of that goes to the surrogates. Most agencies advertise that they pay around $10-15,000 but the surrogates say that’s often not the case.
New agencies are popping up daily, more internationals are flying in to ‘rent a womb’ – all right under the nose of authorities.
It’s no secret the trade in human life in Thailand is thriving; hundreds of agencies advertise their services online. While India used to be the hotspot – now it’s Thailand.
In the 2011-2012 financial year there was 459 Australian citizenship applications made for children born in Thailand – a trend that’s steadily increasing.
Most Australian states don’t allow children born to surrogates overseas back into the country with up to 2 years imprisonment in some cases.
So how did James and Mikey get their daughter home?
“It was a huge risk flying back to where we are from in Australia but we took the risk and we made it home just fine,” says James.
Effectively by law ‘James’ and Mikey’s daughter doesn’t solely belong to them. That surrogate is listed as the baby’s mother and remains the legal guardian.
If James and Mikey go to the courts in their state to seek full parental rights down the track – they could be charged as criminals and potentially lose their little girl.
Laws to govern surrogacy arrangements in Thailand are currently being debated in Thai parliament.
In Australia pressure is mounting to have commercial surrogacy legalised so couples like James and Mikey don’t have to look overseas and in turn risk imprisonment.
In any case – it’s clear people want their own children – and they’ll do whatever it takes to start a family.

SOURCE www.sbs.com.au