ELEANOR HALL: Dozens of Australian parents are accusing the Nepalese government of holding their surrogate babies "hostage", following a court decision that outlawed commercial surrogacy services.
More Australians seeking surrogacy services have been travelling to Nepal since the Indian and Thai authorities cracked down on commercial surrogacy last year.
But a recent decision by the Nepalese Supreme Court has left parents of babies already born or awaiting birth unable to obtain visas to bring their babies back to Australia.
Nick Grimm reports.
NICK GRIMM: For those directly involved, they're sometimes called "family formation journeys". They're the long odysseys on which infertile and same-sex couples will embark, with the goal of transforming their relationship from a partnership to a family.
But in the wake of controversies like Thailand's baby gammy scandal, commercial surrogacy services have themselves been on the move, seeking sympathetic jurisdictions willing to enable prospective parents to take home a baby - which is at least, in part, biologically their own.
After doors closed on Australian couples in India and Thailand, Nepal had been the latest port of call for commercial surrogacy.
After stumping up an estimated $40,000 for the chance to have their child carried by a surrogate mother, parents have been caught in a legal limbo, as a result of a Nepalese supreme court decision that has invalidated the process.
The ruling has left parents unable to obtain the necessary visas allowing them to bring their newborn babies home.
ROBERT REITH: Our best guess is about a dozen, but we're concerned that there could be a number more who, you know, have made no representation to us or even to the local DFAT authorities.
NICK GRIMM: Robert Reith from Surrogacy Australia says other prospective parents are also facing obstacles leaving Nepal with their frozen embryos - regardless of whether they can find a third destination where a surrogate birth can be arranged.
ROBERT REITH: At the moment, the government has put a ban on all export visas, export as in allowing people to take their child, even though its completely genetically theirs, to get a travel visa out of the country.
Now we understand the supreme court will be meeting today or tomorrow to try and get a resolution to this, but even still, it may only help a few couples. There are many couples over there who have perhaps not a surrogate at the moment, but they have eggs, embryos, in clinics in Nepal. So the issue for us is not only getting the babies back home that are already alive and just waiting in limbo, but also for all those other people who have got embryos, frozen embryos, you know, hoping to use a surrogate in one of those countries.
NICK GRIMM: The growing number of Australian couples caught in limbo adds to those already mired in red tape as a result of India's decision to ban commercial surrogacy arrangements there.
ROBERT REITH: DFAT and I have got an account together, we put together some numbers and it looks like we've got about 22 couples who are affected at the moment in India.
NICK GRIMM: Sam Everingham is the father of two girls born via a surrogacy arrangement, and founder of Surrogacy Australia.
He's since become the director of Families Through Surrogacy. The organisation has been providing advice and support for many of the Australian parents whose babies are now in a legal limbo in Nepal.
SAM EVERINGHAM: It's tough. I mean all these couples are highly stressed because they're obviously in a foreign country with newborn babies, and there for many more weeks than they expected to be there for.
Often, you know, there having to have time off work for many more weeks than they've scheduled for. The future is a bit uncertain as to when they'll be able to bring those children back to Australia. So look, it's a nerve-wracking time for many of those couples now, while Nepal goes through a process of deciding what it is and isn't lawful.
NICK GRIMM: In the wake of the court decision in Nepal, some commercial surrogacy clinics are now believed to be re-establishing their operations in Cambodia - one of the jurisdiction's where laws governing the practice are at best vague, or non-existent.
Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade says it can't comment on individual cases for privacy reasons, but in a statement provided to The World Today, DFAT acknowledges it's aware of a number of cases involving Australians in Nepal with children already born.
STATEMENT FROM DFAT (voiceover): The Australian Government has made, and continues to make, representations to the government of Nepal to address the issue of those families who already have children born in Nepal, and those with children currently in gestation. We all want a solution that is humane and considers the best interests of the children, birth mothers and families.
NICK GRIMM: DFAT has been advising Australians against engaging in surrogacy in Nepal since February this year, and the status of commercial surrogacy arrangements undertaken prior to the ruling by the Nepalese supreme court in August remains unclear.
Sam Everingham again.
SAM EVERINGHAM: The Nepalese government isn't very well resourced in this area at the moment. They are doing what they can to try and address what they say at the moment, but it's obviously a government which hasn't got the manpower a developed country has, and they're really stretched to try and deal with this in a thorough and mature way, and in a way which protects the interests of surrogates, the children and the parents.
ELEANOR HALL: That's Sam Everingham from Families Through Surrogacy ending that report from Nick Grimm.