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Australian in Cambodia Surrogacy Case Says She Consulted Lawyers

Tammy Davis-Charles, charged with providing commercial surrogacy services, hides her face as she is transported to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, June 13, 2017.

An Australian woman charged with providing commercial surrogacy services in Cambodia said Tuesday she launched her business only after consulting three local lawyers who assured her that her clinic was legal.

Cambodia banned commercial surrogacy last year after becoming a popular destination for would-be parents seeking women to give birth to their children.

Appearing in court Tuesday in orange prison clothes, Tammy Davis-Charles said the Cambodian women at her clinic served as surrogate mothers to 23 babies, all of whom are now with their biological parents in Australia and the United States. The surrogates were paid $10,000 for each pregnancy, she said.

Davis-Charles, who said she is a nurse and married with six children, and two Cambodian associates were charged last year with acting as intermediaries between parents and pregnant women and falsifying documents. They face up to two years in prison.

Developing countries are popular for surrogacy because costs are much lower than in nations such as the United States and Australia, where surrogate services are around $150,000. The surrogacy business boomed in Cambodia after it was put under tight restrictions in neighboring Thailand. There also were crackdowns in India and Nepal, which had also been popular.

After Cambodia's crackdown, the trade shifted again to neighboring Laos.

Two of the surrogate mothers testified in support of Davis-Charles, telling the court they undertook the job and relinquished the babies with no pressure or regrets, and were paid the promised sum of $10,000.

Mith Sithorn said the baby's Australian father took the infant away a week after she gave birth, and she felt no regret because she understood that she had agreed to the transaction.

Another witness, Hor Vandy, said a man she presumed to be the father took the infant away as soon as she gave birth "and I did not even see the baby's face." She also said she was not upset when the baby was taken away, because she realized she was just the surrogate mother and the child was not really hers.

The judge said the trial would resume at a date to be announced later.