The Down syndrome surrogacy case gets worse, with allegations that the Australian father is a sex offender


Surrogate Pattaramon Chanbua kisses baby boy Gammy at a hospital in Chonburi province, southeastern Thailand. (Apichart Weerawong/Associated Press)

The already-complex saga of the infant twins carried by a Thai surrogate woman for an Australian family got even stranger after reports emerged that the father of the since-separated twins is a convicted sex offender.

Australian child welfare authorities began investigating the father after reports that he went to prison more than a decade ago for molesting three young girls. But according to Agence France-Presse, authorities were unable to reach the couple on Tuesday and Wednesday to conduct their investigation. The couple’s precise whereabouts are unknown to the child welfare agency.

Here is the short version of the story as we know it: One of the twins, born with Down syndrome and other health problems, is in the care of his surrogate mother, Pattaramon Chanbua, who claims that the Australian couple who hired her as a surrogate abandoned the child after learning of his disability.

The other infant — a healthy, 7-month-old girl — is with her mother and father, presumably in Australia.

The surrogate’s dramatic story — including details of her refusing to abort the disabled fetus at the request of the surrogacy agency — has attracted international attention, but the Australian couple at the center of the controversy disputes her version of events.

There’s little external corroboration on the surrogate’s and the couple’s versions of events, leaving the reliability of both narrators an open question.

The latest development, it seems, may stick. Although initial reports on the father’s alleged sex-offender record were vague, the Guardian newspaper found court documents that apparently detail his convictions. According to the documents viewed by Guardian Australia, the father of the twins:

“…abused at least three girls under the age of 13…he was jailed for three years in the late 1990s for sexually molesting two girls under the age of 10. While serving that sentence, he was charged with six counts of indecently dealing with a child under the age of 13, and was convicted and sentenced again.”

A spokesperson for the Western Australia Department for Child Protection told the AFP that a “full investigation is being conducted into the safety and welfare of the child involved” based on those reports of the father’s history. The spokesperson added: “We have the powers to remove children when there is significant and immediate concern over their welfare…on the other hand, we could find that there is no need for other action.”

The child welfare agency will involve law enforcement authorities if the parents remain unreachable, the AFP reported.

The surrogate’s story has sparked a surge of compassion across the world for the infant boy, along with more than $200,000 in donations to help pay for the treatment of his health problems. Based on the reports of the father’s sex-offender record, Pattaramon has said she wants to take the girl back, too.

“I want her back because she is my baby. She was in my womb,” Pattaramon told the Associated Press, adding that she would also accept the possibility that the child could remain in Australia. “If she is happy, then I, as a mother, am also happy. I don’t want to bring her back to suffer or anything. A mother would never want her child in trouble. But if she really cannot go on living there, then I’m very happy to have her back in my arms.”

To make things more complicated, the tale is playing out in the context of very murky international surrogacy laws. As The Post explained earlier, lax regulations and widespread poverty have helped to make surrogacy a growing business in countries such as Thailand, where Pattaramon lives.

Couples from other countries, often through an agency, pay a woman a lump sum to carry a child for them. The paying couple then takes the child home, at which point the surrogate’s relationship with that child comes to an end.

But as cases like this one demonstrate, it’s not always that simple. According to the Associated Press, current law might make it possible for Pattaramon to seek custody of one or both children through Australian courts.

RELATED READING:

How a Thai baby with Down syndrome raised questions about global surrogacy

Abby Ohlheiser is a general assignment reporter for The Washington Post.
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