Thailand will introduce a law banning commercial surrogacy by the end of the year as part of a government crackdown, the head of the Ministry of Public Health's legal
department confirmed on Friday.
In recent days four US and Australian couples of have already been restricted from leaving the country with their surrogate babies, media reported.
The law, which is likely to be fast-tracked by the National Legislative Assembly, will ban women from carrying babies for commercial purposes and restrict surrogacy to relatives. Anyone breaching the law could face up to 10 years in jail and a fine.
The move comes following recent allegations that an Australian couple left their surrogate son, who was born with Down syndrome, in Thailand last month, despite taking his twin sister.
David Farnell, 56, and his wife deny leaving the boy, who is named Gammy. The couple claim they had wanted to take their son home, but that the Thai surrogate wanted to keep him because she feared he would end up in a state institution.
Gammy's 21-year-old surrogate mother, Pattaramon Chanbua, became pregnant through in-vitro fertilization after the couple from western Australia hired a surrogate agency to arrange a Thai surrogate mother for a payment of about 16,000 Australian dollars (11,000 euros).
It has since emerged that Farnell is also a convicted sex offender.
The scandal also started a debate on the legal position of surrogacy in Australia, with many calling on the government for a ban on international surrogacy.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott reacted by saying there was no rush to change laws on surrogacy in Australia.
Too many loopholes
Authorities in Thailand have begun to investigate the current legal standing of surrogacy in clinics and practices around the country. Too many loopholes in the laws are being blamed for making cases difficult to investigate.
According to Thai law, a birth mother is always the legal guardian of the child. If she is married, her husband automatically becomes the child's legal guardian as well. As such, most young women acting as surrogates are young and single, and must sign a contract outlining their intent to allow the biological parents to adopt the child.
Four more couples stopped
Reports have emerged of other couples from the United States and Australia who have already been prevented from leaving Thailand with their surrogate babies in recent days.
While two American couples were reported to have been stopped, the number of Australian couples was unclear.
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported on Thursday that two Australian same-sex couples were stopped by Thai officials at Bangkok airport. One of the couples had attempted to travel with the baby's Thai surrogate mother to Singapore, in the hope of avoiding difficulties at the immigration desk, according to ABC.
However, In Bangkok, Col. Suwitchphon Imjairatch, a Thai immigration police commander said he was only aware of one Australian couple who had been stopped "because their documents were not sufficient."
Thai immigration police spokesman Col. Voravat Amornvivat, however, said that the airport's immigration department had no record of either of these incidents having occurred at all.
In a statement on Friday, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said, "We strongly urge Australians entering Thailand for the purposes of commercial surrogacy to seek independent legal advice in both Thailand and Australia before doing so.
"In particular, they should seek advice on the implications of any new exit requirements."
According to Surrogacy Australia, which helps Australians using surrogacy overseas and within Australia, there are currently around 400 women worldwide who are carrying the babies of Australian couples.
The future remains uncertain for the estimated 100 to 200 Australian couples who are currently going through procedures in Thailand.