A rich Japanese will take custody of 13 babies he fathered through Thai surrogate mothers after a Bangkok court ruled to his favor and granted him that “sole parent” rights in a controversial case that triggered reforms in surrogacy in Thailand.
Mitsutoki Shigeta, the son of a Japanese tycoon, triggered a “baby factory” scandal in Thailand in 2014 after Thai police discovered DNA samples linked him to nine infants found in a Bangkok apartment. There were also at least four other babies born by surrogates.
The case drew the spotlight on the Southeast Asian country’s then unregulated “rent-a-womb” industry. Thai authorities were pushed to ban foreigners from paying for Thai surrogates in 2015.
Shigeta had to leave Thailand in the midst of the huge scandal, but later sued Thailand’s Ministry of Social Development and Human Security for custody of the children.
The Bangkok court said the surrogate mothers had signed away their rights, paving for Shigeta to be deemed the “sole parent” of the children. Shigeta did not attend the trial. The ruling also pointed that being affluent, the Japanese man has ample money and has prepared nurses and nannies to take care of the children when they are brought to Japan.
Bangkok’s Central Juvenile Court said in a statement: “For the happiness and opportunities which the 13 children will receive from their biological father, who does not have a history of bad behavior, the court rules that all 13 born from surrogacy to be the legal children of the plaintiff.”
Shigeta’s lawyer said he would get in touch with Thailand’s Social Welfare Ministry for the next steps in transferring the children from state custody to their father in Japan.
Shigeta hired the Thai surrogates before the country banned the lucrative trade in 2015, after a spate of scandals and custody battles. Surrogacy agencies, however, quickly migrated to neighboring Cambodia, and in recent months there have been signs that the trade is shifting to another Southeast Asia country, Laos.