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Australian nurse jailed for illegal Cambodian surrogacy

7 August 2017
Appeared in BioNews 912

An Australian nurse has been given a prison sentence after being found guilty of running an illegal surrogacy service in Cambodia.

Tammy Davis-Charles and two Cambodian colleagues were arrested a fortnight after authorities banned commercial surrogacy in November 2016. (see BioNews 879). All three have now been found guilty of recruiting foreign couples and Cambodian surrogates from a clinic in Cambodia's capital, Phnom Penh, and also of faking documents to procure birth certificates for the newborns. They have each been sentenced to 18 months in jail, and fined.

During her trial, Ms Davis-Charles told the court: 'I asked three different lawyers about the law in Cambodia. I was told that there was no law about surrogacy in Cambodia and it was allowed.'

The nurse claimed said that her role was only to provide medical care to the surrogate mothers, but the court was not convinced. 'Tammy Davis-Charles was an intermediary between intended parents and Cambodian surrogate mothers,' said Judge Sor Lina in the ruling.

Ms Davis-Charles, who is originally from Melbourne, ran a surrogacy clinic in Thailand before authorities outlawed the practice in 2015 (see BioNews 791) after which she relocated to Cambodia. She is the mother of five-year old twin boys born via a Thai surrogate, whom she says she has not seen since her arrest.

During the trial, several women who acted as surrogates for Ms Davis-Charles testified that they were not coerced and were paid around US $10,000. It is believed that Australian couples were paying around US $50,000 for surrogacy in Cambodia, approximately one-third of what it would cost in Australia or the US.

When the Cambodian authorities outlawed international surrogacy, they reasoned that it is a form of people-trafficking.  Concerns about exploitation, and scandals such as the 'Baby Gammy' case in Thailand in 2014 (see BioNews 765) have motivated governments across south-east Asia to criminalise commercial and international surrogacy. As well as Thailand, India (see BioNews 866) and Nepal (see BioNews 817) have banned the practice in recent years.

Such is demand that the trade has already moved on to Laos, which currently has no regulations around surrogacy.

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