Two emotions that underpin a great deal of crime are a heady brew of greed stirred with desperation. Occasionally you come across a crime in which greed and desperation also are shared by the perpetrator and the victim. In this situation, it is difficult to know who is the ‘real’ criminal and who is the ‘cutout’ who will take the wrap.
Baby 101 is a university course worth of tangled psychological, economic, moral and political knots. Let’s have a look at the real-life case study in Thailand as the centerpiece of Baby 101.
Human Baby Farming is the kind of crime that fits this profile. You have three components: First, the customers who drive the demand for the ‘product’—a DNA replica of themselves and for a variety of reasons the conventional way of reproducing are open. Second, you have the surrogate mothers, mostly from poor, deprived backgrounds, with little education and prospects in the job market. Third, you have the entrepreneurs who see a commercial market of putting together for profit those who fall into the first two categories.
This is unrestrained capitalism in its most extreme form. Babies as products and the services advertised and sold through the Internet, as one would order a puppy or M16. Do most people find the idea of farming babies repugnant per se? Or is the commercialization of the baby-making process that offends? IV has been used for many years and it is one step up the ladder from the natural way babies are made in our species. We’ve come to terms with IV as a way for a woman to have a child who otherwise would not be able to conceive.
We may find a lot of things morally offensive. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they are illegal or should be illegal. Once, however, the reproduction rights become another commodity sold on e-Bay we have entered a very different world of commerce from our parents’ and grandparents’ generations.
This is a prelude to discussing a Taiwanese company named Baby 101. They had a website advertising for the surrogate mother market. You, too, can have a surrogate as a DNA reproduction unit. Buy a baby like a new car. Guaranteed mothers are under 24-hour watch, fed the right stuff, given medical checkups. Junior delivered to your doorstep. It sounds like a screaming headline from a supermarket tabloid.
In Thailand, the news often coughs up a thick phlegm of human exploitation. Baby 101 operated out of a couple of houses in Bangkok has allegedly ‘persuaded’ young, poor Vietnamese women by the usual lure—big money (‘big’ is relative). The deal was the women agreed to act as surrogate mothers for wealthy couples seeking to have a child. It’s not clear how long Baby 101 had been in operation but it became news only after one of the surrogate mothers managed to send an email to an embassy asking for help. The Baby 101 website (www.baby-1001.com) remained accessible in Thailand for several days after the news became global, until a day or two ago.
The Bangkok Post summarized the facts. “Police arrested four Taiwanese staff and one Chinese, and rescued 15 Vietnamese women (earlier reports said 13, then 14), seven of them allegedly pregnant with children destined for other people.” Like many news stories out of this region, the facts shift back and forth like the tide, unearthing new bits and pieces, covering up old bits that proved to be false or mistaken. Given these limitations on the ‘facts’ here’s what we think that we know:
The company staff confiscated the passports of the 15 Vietnamese women. The surrogate mothers apparently were kept in a lockdown situation, and there are allegations of rape. Half of the women were pregnant at the time of the bust (I know you can’t have half of 15 without cutting someone in half). This is a reality check making us wonder if commerce, capitalism, corruption, greed have finally converged to suck out any trace of decency, empathy, or morality left on the planet.
In the initial press reports, the police “could not pinpoint the network of people involved with the operation offering the surrogacy service for Taiwanese couples.” That’s code for the local connection is in deep cover and will be hard to find. They’ve left it to a medical committee to have a look and see who was involved and report back. The old let’s give it to a committee avenue remains popular for these kinds of delicate, embarrassing matters, ones that could ruin the career of any doctor involved or any hospital providing facilities.
But is surrogacy illegal in Thailand? According to the Bangkok Post, “Commercial surrogacy is prohibited in Thailand under a medical practice and hospital services regulation.” Let’s go through that again. No, there is no law banning surrogacy per se but there are hospital and medical regulations that make this kind of operation off-limits. Who made them, where they are published, what sanctions are attached is all a bit vague. I am certain someone will come out an explain all of this. But I am not holding my breath.
The fall back legal position is to consider charging the operators of the service with human trafficking, detention and employment of alien workers. What about the Vietnamese women in this saga? Earlier in the week, they were in detention, sorry, safe house. They seem to be in trouble with the authorities, too. Now they’ve been ‘sent’ back to Vietnam. All voluntary no doubt and everyone smiling and happy at the airport.
Reports earlier in the week said, that nine of the women said they did it for the money. Five grand USD each, and four of the women said they had been tricked and didn’t know what they were getting themselves into. know that doesn’t add up to 15 women. The authorities and the press needed additional days to count to 15. By that time no one thought about revising who had been tricked and who had known exactly what was involved.
In the early stages of this story, some of the pregnant women were reported to request an abortion though this aspect of the story has disappeared from later updates.
With the pregnant women back to Vietnam, the witnesses in other words gone, it will be interesting how any criminal proceeding will proceed without the ‘victims’ to point their fingers at the suspects seated at a table in the usual crime reenactment scene. But you could see this one coming. All those babies born in Thailand. That simply wouldn’t do. The ‘buyers’ would likely disappear into cyberspace, leaving the Thais to explain why the babies are now stateless. Being born to a Vietnamese surrogate mother and foreign father would guarantee that status. How would you get these stateless babies out of the country without the UN, NGOs, and others who care about these matters from twittering and Facebooking themselves and everyone else into a lather. Boycott Thailand as a holiday destination would catch on. Heartless Thai government would follow.
Sending the Vietnamese women back to Vietnam was no-brainer. Better to let one guilty man go free than hang an innocent one becomes better to toss out the baby before it needs the bathwater. So that leaves the ongoing investigation by the police, who have arrested three Taiwanese, one Mainland Chinese, and a couple of Burmese. All the suspects appear to have been employees of Baby 101. You can expect they will take the route, “I didn’t know nothin’ from nobody. Just doing my job. The girls seemed happy. They would have got a lot of money. You sent them home broke, moneyless and pregnant, and we are the bad guys?”
As that is a distinct possible line the Baby 101 will take, stay tuned to see how far the criminal proceeding go against the people involved and that has one of the universe’s man laws: politicians like eggs on their plate and not on their face. In this case, we may never know the story about the eggs carried by those 15 Vietnamese women and what will become of the children produced with the assistance of the staff of Baby 101.
How long will that take before the criminal cases are processed? Conception to birth is 9 months everywhere. Police investigations fit the quantum uncertainty principle; it is difficult to know when this will happen.