In a closed-door meeting yesterday, international experts warned Cambodian officials of the need to create a legal framework for the Kingdom’s quietly blooming commercial surrogacy industry, which many say risks endangering the lives and health of women and children.
The meeting was attended by representatives from the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Health, and members of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and representatives of the Australian and US government, among others.
“We find that surrogate mothers are insufficiently informed about the health risks and are poorly remunerated considering the risk,” Mark Derveeuw, head of UNFPA Cambodia, said during the meeting.
Gestational commercial surrogacy, in which a woman is paid to carry to term an embryo not made from her own genetic material, is relatively new in Cambodia. Companies offering surrogacy services began eyeing the country after surrogacy was banned in Thailand last year following a string of scandals.
Currently, surrogacy occupies a legal grey zone in Cambodia. Penal Code articles 331 and 332, originally designed for human trafficking, make acting as an intermediary between adoptive parents and pregnant women punishable by imprisonment.
But at least 20 babies have been born through surrogacy in Cambodia since January. There are currently two clinics offering surrogacy services in the country and at least 50 brokers and agencies promoting surrogacy, meeting attendees reported.
Reproductive Solutions, a clinic with offices in the US and the UK, offers customers the chance to purchase the eggs of “Caucasian, Latin, Black and Asian” women and have them implanted in a Cambodian surrogate for about $11,500.
Experts are concerned that poor Cambodian women are being exploited and left without care after the pregnancy is over.
“Are the bodies and wombs of Cambodian women ready to host twins or even triplets from foreigners?” Rodrigo Montero, a gender adviser with German aid agency GIZ, asked during the meeting.
“How will the Cambodian government deal with the psychological distress surrogate mothers suffer after giving birth?”
Cambodian officials say they are studying the issue carefully in order to understand the complex legal and ethical implications before drafting legislation.
“The ministries will soon submit a report to the government to talk about the advantages and disadvantages of surrogacy,” said Minister of Women’s Affairs Ing Kantha Phavi during the meeting.
Numerous officials declined to comment after the meeting concluded.