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Cambodian mother says she was caught up in surrogacy

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Tammy Davis-Charles (right) and Sambath Chakriya (left, wearing a mask), are escorted outside Phnom Penh court after their trial yesterday. Chhay Channyda

Cambodian mother says she was caught up in surrogacy

Wiping tears from her cheeks with the back of her hand, Samrith Chakriya smiled and reached for her child at Phnom Penh’s Municipal Court yesterday.

Her daughter is just 10 months old and dressed in pastel pink, and it’s clear she’s not completely at ease in Chakriya’s arms.

For the past six months, Chakriya has been imprisoned at Prey Sar and has been mostly separated from her infant, after she was suddenly arrested for her alleged role in an international commercial surrogacy ring. There’s a cruel irony that in the process of helping couples desperate for biological babies, she was cut off from her own.

Yet Chakriya claims to have been unwittingly caught up in the commercial surrogacy business. Working as a nurse at Sihanouk Hospital Centre of Hope in Phnom Penh, Chakriya took on some part-time work for Australian Tammy Davis-Charles, founder of Fertility Solutions PDG, in October of 2015. “I did not know the baby was for surrogacy, because my work is only looking after and caring for the patient,” she said yesterday after her trial in which she faces up to two years in prison was postponed.

“I had no idea working for her would lead to my arrest.”

She earned $200 a month for the first three months, but this was bumped up to $650 last year. “This work was just to earn extra salary. It was just to take care of patients; I’m just a nurse, not a midwife. I did not know about the law.’’

At the time of her arrest, Chakriya had stopped working for Davis-Charles. Chakriya gave birth in July and was on maternity leave, spending each day with her new daughter, when police came for her in November.

Commercial surrogacy is a fraught enterprise: advocates say it helps couples fulfil their dreams of raising a child, but detractors say it exploits impoverished women with scarce options. In Cambodia, couples have routinely paid around $50,000 for a child, with the surrogate promised $10,000.

Cambodia is still drafting a law on surrogacy, but in the meantime Chakriya faces charges related to fraudulent documents and acting as an intermediary between an adoptive parent and a pregnant woman.

At the court yesterday, Chakriya’s family flocked around her. Her father, Samrith Savoeun, a motodop driver by trade, remained stoic. ”I pity my daughter, because she is just a nurse. I don’t know why she was arrested, about these kinds of charges,” he said.

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