February 24, 2011

BANGKOK (AFP) Fourteen Vietnamese women, seven of them pregnant, have been rescued from an "illegal and inhuman" surrogate baby breeding ring in Thailand, officials said Thursday.

Police said the company, called Baby 101, received orders by email or via agents from childless couples and in some instances the male partner would provide sperm to inseminate the women.

"This is illegal and inhuman. In some cases it looks like they were raped," said Public Health Minister Jurin Laksanawisit, who added that those carrying children would be cared for in a private hospital.

Vietnamese women, some of whom were offered thousands of dollars per baby, were held in two houses in Bangkok and had their passports confiscated.

The women were freed after they were able to send an email to the Vietnamese embassy, which tipped off Thai authorities.

"We found 13 people in two houses when we searched, we found one more today at the hospital," said Lieutenant colonel Prasat Khemaprasit, of Immigration police. The woman at the hospital had just given birth.

"Nine of the women said they had volunteered to work because they were told they would earn 5,000 dollars for each baby. Four said they were tricked," said Major General Manu Mekmok, commander of investigations for the immigration department.

Police said four Taiwanese, one Chinese and three Myanmar nationals were arrested in connection with the business and charged with illegally working in Thailand.

A 35-year-old Taiwanese woman, who police said ran the operation, was also charged with human trafficking.

Police are investigating whether more women are being held in different locations.

Nearly 40 women, who are identified only by a numbered code, are pictured in various poses on a website, www.baby-1001.com, believed to be run by the company, many of which seem to be around a swimming pool at the same property.

The surrogacy service, from egg and sperm donation to the delivery of a baby, is advertised on the site for $32,000 plus other expenses.

It appears to be aimed at Taiwanese customers and says that because running a commercial surrogacy business in that country is illegal it conducts its operations in other locations.

Offices were listed in Bangkok, Phnom Penh in Cambodia and Vietnam.

The website says Thai women are not used as surrogates and adds "the protection of the law is absolutely (sic)".

It says where the women live "there are security lookout in every entrance, severely control the person and vehicles that pass in and out to the community, the guards routinely patrol around 24 hours a day all year".

Pictures of pregnant women in the house are also shown.

The company describes itself as "eugenics surrogate" and promises no "connection between consignor (client) and surrogate mother".

"We could create the finest procreation condition for your baby, mainly through the efficient embryo refining, only the superior left for implanting," it adds.

Phil Robertson, of New York-based Human Rights Watch said there should be a "full investigation and prosecution to the full extent of the law".

"This is human trafficking in its most perverse and horrific form, sexual exploitation and rape, the mind boggles that something like this could happen," he said.

The Vietnamese embassy was unavailable for comment.