PHNOM PENH: Thirty-two pregnant Cambodian women who were carrying babies on behalf of Chinese clients were charged and put in pretrial detention for their involvement in an illegal commercial surrogacy operation, a court official in Phnom Penh said on Friday (Jul 6).
Phnom Penh municipal court’s investigating judge on Thursday formally charged the women under anti-trafficking and sexual exploitation laws, Y Rin said.
“The judge decided to send them to detention at Prey Sar prison,” said Y Rin.
Five people, including four Cambodian women and the male Chinese manager, and 33 women were detained in a police raid on Jun 21.
Five suspects, Liu Qiang, the 49-year-old Chinese ringleader; and Cambodians Svay Sreynoch, 34; Koeun Sreylang, 27; Lim Sopheap, 19; and Thai Pheap, 43, were charged last month with the act of buying, selling or exchanging a person for cross-border transfer, as well as with being surrogacy intermediaries.
Police have been investigating the operation for more than a year, Keo Thea, head of Phnom Penh’s anti-trafficking unit said on Jun 23.
The ages of the surrogate mothers range from 20 to over 30 years old, with most hailing from the provinces and Phnom Penh. The official added that the women were all married, and that some were widows.
“They (the brokers) have a network to persuade the women to become surrogates (in exchange for money).” said Keo Thea.
Some of the surrogates are in their seventh and eighth months of pregnancy. According to Keo Thea, they were promised between US$9,000 and US$10,000 after giving birth.
He added that while some of these surrogates will remain in Cambodia to give birth, others will head to China for delivery.
“The brokers use their networks to bring the surrogate mothers to China, where the babies would be left behind, with the women returning to Cambodia after delivery.”
In a landmark ruling in August 2017, Australian Tammy Davis-Charles, the co-founder of Fertility Solutions PGD, and two Cambodians - Penh Rithy, a commerce ministry official, and nurse Samrith Chakriya - were sentenced to 18 months’ jail for running a surrogacy business.
Clinics based in Asia are increasingly eyeing China, where health officials estimate that 90 million couples have become eligible to have a second child after a decades-old one-child policy was relaxed in 2015.
There are no official estimates of the number of Chinese babies delivered by surrogates, but media say it exceeds 10,000 every year.
Thailand and India have blocked foreigners from using commercial surrogacy services following a series of cases that raised concern about exploitation.
Thailand banned the practice in 2015 and subsequently several Thai clinics move across the border into Cambodia until commercial surrogacy was banned there the following year.