Thirty-two Cambodian women charged with human trafficking for acting as surrogates have been released on bail on the condition that they keep the children.
The pregnant women were arrested in June, after a crackdown on international surrogacy, which Cambodia now terms 'cross-border human trafficking'. Some have given birth while detained.
'We have told them clearly that these babies belong to you, so you have to take care of them until they grow up, and not sell them. And they agreed,' said Bun Samkhan from the National Committee for Counter-Trafficking.
Ms Samkhan explained that her committee arranged for the women to be released on humanitarian grounds in order that they can care for the infants, who are the innocent parties.
Chou Bun Eng secretary of state for the interior ministry told Reuters that the mothers had become attached to the unborn children saying, 'all have a commitment, because of love for the child developed in their wombs'.
However, it is unclear how much choice the women had, as their other option was up to 15 years in prison. 'The reality is that these women do this because they are living in poverty,' Ros Sopheap, director of the charity Gender and Development for Cambodia told Reuters. Now they are returning home with an unexpected child, instead of the $10,000 they thought they would make.
One of the women, speaking anonymously to Reuters said: 'I agreed to give birth at the provincial hospital and look after the baby, but I don't know how we will get the money to support and raise another child.'
It is thought that the babies were mostly destined for Chinese families, but it is unclear if the women are genetically related to the children they carried, or if they acted as gestational surrogates, carrying embryos created from the intended parents' or donor gametes. Demand for surrogacy in China has risen sharply since the one-child policy was revoked.
Several Asian countries have banned surrogacy in the last few years, after concerns about couples from wealthier nations exploiting women. Commercial surrogacy boomed in Cambodia after neighbouring Thailand implemented a ban in 2015 (see BioNews 791), with Cambodia bringing in their own ban the following year (See BioNews 876).