An illegal baby selling ring that was broken up in Thailand last week amid allegations of rape and human trafficking may also be operating in Cambodia, prompting rights groups to urge an immediate investigation in the Kingdom.
Thai police arrested several people last week who are accused of being involved in a Taiwanese-run business in which women were offered up as surrogate mothers for wealthy couples in Taiwan and elsewhere.
Accounts from 14 Vietnamese women rescued from the firm in Bangkok indicated that they had been trafficked from Vietnam, and that the organisation is also operating in Cambodia, the Bangkok Post reported.
A message on what is apparently the firm’s website, meanwhile, says it has “reception offices in Bangkok, Thailand and Phnom Penh, Cambodia” and lists a pair of local phone numbers.
Thai Minister of Public Health Jurin Laksanavisit told reporters in Bangkok that the business was “illegal and inhuman” and said some victims had shown signs of rape.
Thai authorities, he added, are pursuing human trafficking and illegal detention charges in a case observers called a new and horrifying form of cross-border crime.
“When I first heard about this, I was frankly stunned,” said Phil Robertson, deputy director of the Asia division for Human Rights Watch.
“Clearly what we have is something that’s so beyond the pale that people haven’t even thought about it, but here it is in front of us.”
A Thai official told the BBC that staff from the company, known as Baby 101, had seized the women’s passports and confined them at the firm’s headquarters upon their arrival in Bangkok.
On what appears to be the firm’s website, the cost for the complete surrogacy process is listed at US$32,000.
“It is needless to take the risk for adoption,” reads the website, which says the surrogacy process is based on “eugenic” principles.
“We can grant you a splendid life especially when you embrace your blood relationship baby.”
Police in Thailand reportedly made the arrests after several of the victims sent an email to the Vietnamese Embassy in Bangkok pleading for assistance.
The victims are set to return home to Vietnam, though police say they are still investigating to see whether more women are being held elsewhere.
On the website, photos of 40 different women available for surrogacy appear along with numbered codes.
The whereabouts of the majority of these women are not yet clear.
Cambodian officials contacted today said they were unfamiliar with the case and did not know whether investigations would be pursued here.
Bith Kimhong, director of the Interior Ministry’s anti-human trafficking department, said today that he was unaware of the matter, as did Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong.
Keo Thea, director of the municipal anti-trafficking and juvenile protection bureau, said it was “unbelievable that something like that really happened”.
“If you have more information about this case in Cambodia, please let me know,” he said.
Repeated calls to Baby 101’s Cambodian phone numbers were not answered today. The firm’s website did not list a local address.
Robertson said members of the alleged trafficking ring could still be at large both in Cambodia and elsewhere, urging a coordinated investigation.
“Thailand and Cambodia and Vietnam and Taiwan need to really work very closely together and try to get to the bottom of this entire enterprise,” he said. “These people have to be held accountable.”