Cambodia has begun prosecuting cases of alleged surrogacy with the jailing of an Australian and two Cambodians alleged to have been acting as an intermediary between an adoptive parent and a pregnant woman.
Tammy Davis-Charles, 49, and two Cambodians, including Penh Rithy, 28, an official with commerce ministry, and nurse Samrithchan Chariya, 35, were ordered jailed by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court pending trial on charges that also include requesting fake documents.
It is the first known case under a new government regulation that was issued in October.
Chou Bun Eng, secretary of state of the Ministry of Interior and vice-permanent president of the anti-human trafficking and sexual exploitation committee, told VOA Khmer recently she believed the surrogacy, which is not legalized in Cambodia, is a form of baby trafficking because there is no report proving where the babies were heading to and who the parents of those babies are.
“Simply speaking, we think that the surrogacy is for parents, mother, and father or some spouses, who don’t have children and may take [the babies] to be their children. This led us to think that it’s a charity issue but in this case there is one person or group who need from four; ten to twenty babies. So, we can question what they will do with those babies?” she said. “If they take the babies to any parent, they will charge the money. Thus, this is the baby trafficking.”
She said she was also concerned some babies are being raised and will be used for organ replacements.
“Now we are aware that there is a movement regarding the replacement of organ of the body. So, will all these babies become the replacement material of other people’s body organ or not?,” she said.
Sam Everingham, director of the Australian non-profit organization Families Through Surrogacy, explained in an email last week that surrogacy is a poorly understood process by most legislators and governments.
Regarding Cambodian government’s attempt to shut down surrogacy, Everingham believed that there has been pressure from western governments and the United Nations on Cambodia to shut down unregulated surrogacy.
“Also, surrogacy is a foreign concept to Cambodia and particularly to Buddhist teachings, hence the Cambodian government likely feels it is culturally inappropriate to allow it to continue,” he wrote in an email.
Pro and Cons of Surrogacy
The advantages are that surrogates in Cambodia who carry a child can earn significant sums of money, potentially $10,000, to support their own families. The process also provides childless couples with the opportunity for a child, and in the case of cross-border surrogacy, hopefully deepens cultural ties between the intended parent family and the host country, said Everingham.
He explained the disadvantages include the fact that children may not have the opportunity for later contact with their egg donors or surrogate, and that surrogate mothers may not always fully understand the process.
“There is a risk that surrogates are not well screened psychologically, making it emotionally difficult to separate from the child post birth. There is also the risk that surrogates agree to a process that they do not fully understand and may later regret. This is particularly likely in the case of poorly educated and illiterate women,” he wrote in an email.
He added that in Cambodia intended parents may pay an average of $50,000 for all aspects of surrogacy. The intended parents may pay around $45,000 in Ukraine, $70,000 in Australia, $80,000 in Canada and $160,000 in the United States, he said.
However, The Sydney Morning Herald reported on November 22 that a surrogacy company run by Australian nurse and fertility specialist Davis-Charles has been paying poor Cambodian women $400 a month to carry babies for foreign biological parents, including Australians.
The story reported that police said Australian intending parents have been paying Davis-Charles company up to $50,000 for their babies. It added that a company founded by Davis-Charles recruited 25 Cambodian surrogates.
Surrogacy is heavily regulated in Australia, making it often very difficult and expensive for many childless couples to locate a willing surrogate and to go through the process, he added.
The Australian embassy in Cambodia has confirmed to VOA Khmer that it is working to provide consular assistance to Davis-Charles.
“The Australian Embassy is continuing to provide consular assistance to an Australian woman arrested in Cambodia, in accordance with the Consular Services Charter. For privacy reasons we will not comment further,” a media liaison officer wrote in an email.
Cambodian authorities have said the investigation into the surrogacy service is still under way, while there are reports saying that surrogacy agents operating in Cambodia have moved to Laos.
Keo Thea, chief of Phnom Penh Municipal’s anti-human trafficking bureau, said authorities are still conducting more investigations. He said he couldn’t predict what new laws the government would make to control surrogacy or shut it down for good.
“This is the issue of the high-level leaders who will make the law but we don’t know about what the decision will be. So, we have to wait. I am only the law implementer and enforce what it has already, because I am the judiciary police,” he said.
Cambodian authorities confirmed that the three accused persons were arrested and sent to the court because a law on surrogacy services doesn’t exist in Cambodia.
Bun Eng told VOA Khmer that Cambodian authorities didn’t offer support to the surrogacy service.
“In Cambodia, this is prohibited but there are some opinion saying that this would offer a lot of money to women. But I want to say that in Cambodia, we probably didn’t take this occupation to make economic prosper because it’s an occupation of producing humans for sale,” she said.
Cambodian anti-human trafficking authorities said that Davis-Charles, founder of Fertility Solutions PGD, moved her clinic from Thailand to Cambodia last year when the military government in Thailand shut down surrogacy service in that country.
There are 23 surrogate mothers who have been hired by Davis-Charles’s clinic, according to Bun Eng. Five of them already delivered while 18 others are pregnant, she said.