Thailand's interim parliament has passed a law that bars foreigners from seeking surrogacy services to end a "rent-a-womb" industry that made the Southeast Asian country a top destination for fertility tourism.
Thailand was rocked by several surrogacy scandals last year and an outcry followed the case of an Australian couple — one of whom is a convicted child sex offender — who left a male twin surrogate baby with Down Syndrome in Thailand, bringing only his sister back to Australia. The couple at the center of the story of "Baby Gammy," and the surrogate mother told conflicting stories of how the infant came to be left behind.
Another case involved a Japanese man who fathered at least at least 16 babies using Thai surrogates in what local Thai media called the "baby factory".
Thailand gave preliminary approval in August for a draft law to make commercial surrogacy a crime. The draft passed its first reading in November and parliament voted 160 to 2 to pass the law Thursday night.
"This law aims to stop Thai women's wombs from becoming the world's womb. This law bars foreign couples from coming to Thailand to seek commercial surrogacy services," Wanlop Tankananurak, a member of Thailand's National Legislative Assembly, told Reuters.
The new law bans foreign couples from seeking surrogacy services and stipulates that surrogate mothers must be Thai and over 25.
"The important part is if the couple seeking surrogacy services is Thai or the couple is mixed race, they can find a Thai woman to be their surrogate, providing she is over 25," he said, adding that violation of the law carries a "severe prison sentence."
Under the new law, a Thai couple is allowed to seek a surrogate to carry the fetus only if they are able to prove that they and their relatives are infertile. A couple with one Thai spouse seeking surrogacy must be married for at least three years.
It also says that anyone involved in commercial surrogacy will face a maximum jail term of 10 years and a maximum fine of $6,100.
Critics say making commercial surrogacy illegal could push the industry underground, making it harder for patients to access quality physicians and medical care.
Previously, the Southeast Asia nation was one of the few countries in Asia where commercial surrogacy was not specifically banned. Thailand was a popular destination for parents from developed countries such as Australia and Japan who were looking for affordable surrogate mothers. Another popular destination is India.
Experts say the profile of a typical surrogate mother in India and Thailand is an uneducated lower-income woman with a husband and children of her own.
Al Jazeera with Reuters