A court in Thailand has awarded a Japanese man paternity rights over 13 children born through surrogacy, meaning that can now apply for custody of them.
The man, not named in court documents, is reported to be Mitsutoki Shigeta. The son of a wealthy IT entrepreneur, Shigeta attracted controversy in 2014 after Thai officials raided his flat in Bangkok on the of suspicion of human trafficking and found at least nine babies, nannies and a pregnant woman (reported in BioNews 768).
The Japanese businessman, who was shown to be the biological father of the children, maintained that he simply wanted a large family who could inherit his wealth. The Central Juvenile Court in Bangkok, which heard Shigeta's application, said that it did not find any evidence of human trafficking and believed that he has the means to care for the children.
'For the happiness and opportunities which the 13 children will receive from their biological father, who does not have a history of bad behaviour, the court rules that all 13 born from surrogacy to be legal children of the plaintiff,' the Court said in a statement.
The Thai women who acted as surrogates, sought custody over the children themselves in 2015 (reported in BioNews 786). However, BBC News – citing the recent decision – said that the women had now forfeited any rights to the children.
The case, which became known as the 'baby factory' scandal in the press, cast a spotlight on Thailand's surrogacy industry and the Thai government shortly afterwards introduced a ban on foreigners from paying for surrogacy in the country. It is claimed that Shigeta paid the surrogates between $9,300 and $12,500 each.
Commenting on the case, Sam Everingham, founder of the Australian consultancy organisation, Families Through Surrogacy, said: 'The case of Mitsutoki Shigeta is way outside the norm for cross-border surrogacy. Fathering 13 children via surrogacy highlights the need for regulation of surrogacy at a domestic level.'
A total of 17 babies have so far been identified in Thailand as having been fathered by Shigeta, who already has custody of four of the children. CNN reports he also has two further children born to surrogates in India.