The controversy surrounding Baby Gammy - who was born to a Thai surrogate and allegedly abandoned by his Australian parents after they discovered he had Down syndrome - raises thorny ethical and legal questions about commercial surrogacy ("Singaporeans pay big bucks to rent a womb"; last Sunday).
Singapore is a party to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which declares that "the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration" in all actions concerning children.
Article 35 of the Convention mandates that "states parties shall take all appropriate national, bilateral and multilateral measures to prevent the abduction of, the sale of or traffic in children for any purpose or in any form".
Its spirit and intent are clear: Children are not objects or commodities to be traded.
Commercial surrogacy is a violation of children's rights because it does precisely that. It is a practice whereby a woman is paid to be artificially impregnated, with the intention that the child is to be adopted by someone else.
Commercial surrogacy deliberately separates a child from his mother without regard for the child's best interests. It demeans and degrades women's bodies as "wombs for rent". Also, the lure of money opens the door to exploitation of women from less developed countries by the wealthy.
Currently, other than guidelines from the Ministry of Health prohibiting assisted reproduction centres from practising surrogacy, Singapore lacks comprehensive legislation addressing the matter.
The Government should enact laws to prohibit the practice of commercial surrogacy. Extensive consultations should be conducted beforehand because of the sensitive nature of the issues raised.
On the international level, Singapore should cooperate closely with other countries to adopt measures to protect the rights of children, especially those like Baby Gammy.
This article was first published on August 17, 2014.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.