Jan 14, 9:41 AM EST

Surrogate moms sue Thai ministry for custody of 13 children fathered by Japanese businessman

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BANGKOK (AP) -- The surrogate mothers of 13 babies fathered by a Japanese businessman are suing Thai authorities and seeking to regain custody of the children, officials said Wednesday.

The Social Development and Human Security Ministry took 13 babies into custody last year after an investigation involving a Japanese man who had at least 16 babies via surrogates. In August, police raided a Bangkok condominium and found nine babies and nine nannies living in a few unfurnished rooms filled with baby bottles, bouncy chairs, play pens and diapers. They have since identified Mitsutoki Shigeta as the father of those babies - and seven others.

The women filed a lawsuit against the ministry in December after making requests to get back the children, said Suwanna Pinkaew, the director of Women and Children Welfare Protection Bureau, which takes care of the babies.

"After the requests were received, we have initiated and are in the process of evaluating the circumstances and the women's readiness before making a decision," Suwanna said. "It took us some time because they live in different provinces and we have just finished visiting all of them."

Suwanna said the mothers might regain custody if social services found their conditions acceptable.

Shigeta, through his lawyer, also has sought custody of the children, but he has not returned to Thailand to give his account of the matter to police.

In the lawsuit filed to the Central Juvenile and Family Court, the mothers also accused the ministry of failing to provide adequate care of the children.

Thailand's interim parliament approved a ban on commercial surrogacy in November though it has not yet become law. The bill followed a string of scandals surrounding the largely unregulated business, including one involving an Australian couple who took home a healthy baby girl but left her twin brother who has Down's syndrome to be raised by their Thai surrogate mother.

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