Japanese man wins custody of 13 surrogacy babies


Japanese man wins custody of 13 surrogacy babies

A wealthy Japanese man at the centre of a “baby factory” scandal in Thailand has won sole parental rights to 13 children he fathered through Thai surrogate mothers.

Mitsutoki Shigeta, 28, reportedly wanted a large number of children so they could inherit his fortune in the future. The court ruling on Tuesday means he will now make preparations to take them to live in Japan according to his lawyer.

Some campaigners have raised concerns over the case, suggesting it was “way outside the norm for cross-border surrogacy” and highlighted the need for strong regulation. The court found the father had no history of bad behaviour and would provide for the children’s happiness.

The case attracted international attention in 2014 after nine infants — then estimated to be aged between two weeks and two years – were found under the care of 24-hour nannies in a luxury Bangkok apartment. They were subsequently cared for by the Thai state, while another four infants were deemed also to have been fathered by the same man.

“What I can tell you so far is that I’ve never seen a case like this,” Thailand’s Interpol director, Maj Gen Apichart Suribunya, said at the time.

The discovery threw a spotlight on Thailand’s then-unregulated “rent-a-womb” industry, prompting authorities to bar foreigners in 2015 from paying for Thai surrogates.

Shigeta hired the Thai surrogates before the ban and paid them between $9,300 (£6,600) and $12,500 each, police said.

He appeared in a Bangkok court via video link two weeks ago to argue for his parental rights. His lawyer said his client wanted to have dozens of babies because he hoped for a large family and believed they could inherit his wealth, Kyodo News reported.

Officials from Thailand’s social development and human security ministry told the court they had visited places where the man intended to raise the children and were happy with the arrangements, Kyodo reported.

On Tuesday, the central juvenile court granted him legal rights to take the children, saying he had ample money to care for them and had prepared nurses and nannies at a safe residence in Japan.

“For the happiness and opportunities the 13 children will receive from their biological father – who does not have a history of bad behaviour – the court rules them to be the plaintiff’s legal children,” the court said in a statement that did not mention Shigeta by name for privacy reasons.

Shigeta was deemed “sole parent” of the children after the Thai surrogates had signed away their rights, the court added.

His lawyer, Kong Suriyamontol, said he would contact the ministry to discuss the next steps to transfer the children from state custody, but this could be delayed depending on the “readiness” of the children, most of whom are about four years old.

Sam Everingham, a director of the Australia-based consultancy Families Through Surrogacy, said the scandal had been instrumental in closing access to surrogacy in countries that had no laws protecting surrogates or parents, such as Thailand, India, Cambodia and Nepal.

“The case of Mitsutoki Shigeta is way outside the norm for cross-border surrogacy,” Everingham said. “Fathering 13 children via surrogacy highlights the need for regulation of surrogacy at a domestic level, as this is clearly an unacceptable abuse of the limited pool of gestational surrogates globally.”

Article: 20th February 2018 www.theguardian.com