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Breaking: Australian nurse and two Cambodians get 18 months in landmark surrogacy case

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Surrogacy suspects Samrith Chakriya (L) and Tammy Davis-Charles(R) are escorted outside after their bail appeal hearing in March in Phnom Penh. Heng Chivoan

Breaking: Australian nurse and two Cambodians get 18 months in landmark surrogacy case

Australian nurse Tammy Davis-Charles has been found guilty in Cambodia's landmark surrogacy trial. 

Davis-Charles and her two Cambodian co-accused – nurse Samrith Chakriya and commerce ministry official Penh Rithy – were sentenced to 18 months in prison for their roles in Cambodia's much-maligned surrogacy industry.

Davis-Charles was also ordered to pay a fine of 4 million riel, or about $1,000, while Chakriya and Rithy were each fined 2 million riel, or $500. 

The shock verdict from Phnom Penh Municipal Judge Sor Lina comes in the absence of a law on surrogacy, which the government is still drafting. 

The three were charged with being intermediaries between a pregnant woman and an adoptive parent, and fraudulently obtaining documents, such as birth certificates.

Davis-Charles founded Fertility Solutions PGD and operated out of Thailand until a crackdown on the controversial industry following the 2014 “Baby Gammy” case forced her and other surrogacy agents into neighbouring Cambodia.

Defendants in Cambodia's landmark surrogacy case at Phnom Penh Municipal Court earlier today.
Defendants in Cambodia's landmark surrogacy case at Phnom Penh Municipal Court earlier today.

The industry flourished but was shrouded in secrecy, with parents desperate for their own biological children paying around $50,000 for the process, with around $10,000 going to Cambodian surrogate mothers, many of whom live in poverty.

The Ministry of Health issued a snap ban on the practice in October last year. Davis-Charles, Chakriya and Rithy were arrested just weeks later.

Davis-Charles claimed to have tended to surrogates in her capacity as a nurse, paid them and signed their contracts with intended parents as a witness, but she denied she recruited surrogates or falsified documents.

She assisted 23 Cambodian surrogates during their pregnancies, with 18 of those carrying children for Australians.

In the final day of their hearing last month, Davis-Charles and Chakriya made tearful pleas for their release. Davis-Charles said she hadn’t seen her young twin boys – who were born through surrogacy in Thailand – for the eight months of her incarceration. She also said she was suffering in prison with cancer in her left eye. 

Chakriya previously told the Post she had no idea her work as a nurse and translator for Davis-Charles could lead to her arrest, and begged to be reunited with her now one-year-old daughter, who was just a few months old at the time of her arrest.

Following the ban, officials earlier this year announced guidelines for parents to take children born through surrogacy out of the country, which involve submitting paperwork, the involvement of Cambodian courts and a DNA test. The guidelines were officially given to foreign embassies last week, and require parents to provide the Cambodian government with yearly updates on their child’s physical and mental development.

More updates to follow.

A timeline of surrogacy in the Kingdom:

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