At least 32 pregnant Cambodian women have been charged for involvement in human trafficking.
The charges come after five suspected leaders of the surrogacy operation, including Cambodian and Chinese nationals, were charged with human trafficking.
The women, who were previously discovered to carry babies for Chinese clients in an illegal surrogacy ring (see BioNews 956), are being held in detention before trial. Some of the women are in their seventh or eighth month of pregnancy. The women had been promised between US$9000-10,000 as part of the surrogacy arrangement.
They will be prosecuted under Article 16 of Cambodia's recently introduced law on human trafficking and sexual exploitation. The article, which covers commercial surrogacy, states that the buying or exchanging of a person for profit is illegal and could lead to a prison sentence of up to 20 years.
Ros Sopheap, executive director of Gender and Development for Cambodia, a gender equality group said: 'We cannot condone keeping these women in prison because they are victims. They are poor with few options and wouldn't have known how surrogacy could affect their life and health and that it is wrong… US$10,000 is a lot to them.'
The deputy director of the National Committee for Counter Trafficking, Chou Bun Eng, stated the women were being taken care of adequately, adding: 'They [intended to] exchange their children for money. What we prioritise as the victim is the baby inside the mother. To bear a child and then sell it is very inhumane.'
Cambodia banned commercial surrogacy in 2017 (see BioNews 915) after India, Nepal and Thailand implemented similar laws. Before the ban, Cambodia was popular for commercial surrogacy, particularly among Chinese nationals seeking surrogacy arrangements after the One-Child Policy was relaxed in 2015.
Australian nurse Tammy Davis-Charles was sentenced to 18 months in prison in 2017 for running a surrogacy business in Cambodia (see BioNews 912).