A total of 18 people, including 11 pregnant women, arrested in Cambodia have been charged with offences relating to human trafficking for allegedly engaging in surrogacy for foreign couples.
Cambodia banned surrogacy in 2016 (see BioNews 876), after neighbouring Thailand did the same for foreign nationals the year before. Human trafficking is punishable with seven to 15 years imprisonment by Cambodian law.
Sam Everingham, founder of the Australian non-profit organisation Families Through Surrogacy told the Guardian: 'It makes [the pregnant women] look like criminals, but they are victims. It is the agents operating in Cambodia outside the law who should be dealt with.'
In July, 32 pregnant surrogates were arrested (see BioNews 958). One of the women told the Union of Catholic Asian News agency that she had been chained to her bed on a maternity ward while giving birth and was sent back to detention within a week.
Chou Bun Eng, the vice chairman of Cambodia's National Committee of Anti-Human Trafficking, said she hopes to get the surrogates released on bail soon. 'They shouldn't be punished with the maximum sentence because the actual crime of trafficking has not even been committed yet.'
Defence lawyers are now planning to submit documents to the court to prove that the women are willing to raise the babies themselves instead of having them adopted.
Meanwhile, Australian nurse Tammy Davis-Charles was secretly released from Cambodian prison in May. She was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment in August 2017 for helping to source clients and falsify documents such as birth certificates for surrogate-born babies (see Bionews 912) in the country. Davis-Charles has previously denied the allegations, saying she only provided medical care to the pregnant women.
Prior to working in Cambodia she operated a surrogacy clinic in Thailand before the practice became illegal in 2015. She has yet to comment on her release from Prey Sar prison.