Cambodia Police Arrest 5 in Raid on Surrogacy Operation


HONG KONG — Five people in Cambodia were arrested on charges of human trafficking after the police found 33 pregnant women during a raid on an illegal surrogacy operation, the local news media reported Monday, highlighting how the practice has persisted in the country despite a 2016 ban.

The five arrested during the raid last week in the capital, Phnom Penh, included a Chinese citizen and four Cambodian women, The Phnom Penh Post reported.

Cambodia is one of four Asian countries — along with Thailand, Nepal and India — that have banned commercial surrogacy in recent years. Experts say the bans have pushed some surrogacy agencies underground while also fueling demand for the practice in other countries, particularly in Eastern Europe, where local regulations are more welcoming.

“Most bans don’t ever quite work for all people,” said Sam Everingham, the founder of Families Through Surrogacy, a nonprofit based in Australia that provides advice and support for people seeking surrogacy arrangements.

“Countries need to develop their own laws around this quickly, or improve their access to surrogacy for their own citizens, so they don’t have to go offshore to do this,” he added, referring to major sending countries like China, where surrogacy is illegal, and the United States.

After Cambodia announced a ban on commercial surrogacy in 2016 while legislation was being considered, an Australian nurse and two Cambodian assistants were convicted of running an illegal commercial surrogacy clinic there. They were later sentenced to one and a half years in prison.

But Mr. Everingham said Chinese agencies had been taking clients offshore for surrogacy over the past six or seven years, partly because of high rates of infertility in China and the recent relaxation of that country’s one-child policy, which has made many couples newly eligible to have a second child. He said that the Chinese agencies had long been willing to operate under the radar in Cambodia.

And despite the 2016 ban, he added, surrogates are also still being flown into Cambodia from other countries, including the United States, for in vitro fertilization because it brings down the overall cost of surrogacy for prospective parents to about $110,000 from $135,000. He said the procedures were typically carried out in Cambodia by visiting foreign doctors who rent facilities.

Keo Thea, the Phnom Penh anti-trafficking police chief, was quoted by Reuters as saying that the surrogacy operation had already provided about 20 babies to clients in China. He said the five people who were arrested, including a Chinese manager, were charged with both human trafficking and “being intermediaries in surrogacy.”

Mr. Keo Thea told The Post that the women had been transferred to the care of Phnom Penh’s Social Affairs Department. But Chou Bun Eng, the vice chairwoman of Cambodia’s National Committee for Counter Trafficking, said that they might eventually face charges.

A Cambodian government spokesman was not immediately available for comment on Monday.

News of the raid comes four months after a surrogate mother gave birth in China to a boy whose parents had died four years earlier in a car crash. The husband and wife were both only children, and they had been killed five days before embryos were to be implanted as part of an I.V.F. procedure, the Chinese news media reported. Their parents later resolved to use surrogacy to continue the family line, and the Laotian surrogate was taken to China after doctors at a hospital in Laos implanted two of the embryos.

Cambodian lawmakers are considering a bill that would ban commercial surrogacy but allow it in cases where women are paid only for their expenses.

But Mr. Everingham said it was unreasonable to expect any woman to carry a child for a stranger without compensation.

“It will just be to keep the policymakers happy,” he said of the law.

Source : Nytimes