The Phnom Penh Municipal Court is mulling a temporary release of 32 women who have been detained since July for acting as paid surrogates for Chinese clients, the Secretary of State for the Ministry of Interior Chou Bun Eng told reporters on Wednesday.
The 32 women, who were initially regarded as victims, were eventually charged with “The Act of Selling, Buying or Exchanging a Person for Cross-border Transfer” according to Article 16 of the Law on Suppression of Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation.
The article stipulates that the act is punishable by imprisonment of up to 20 years.
Speaking during a meeting at the ministry, Bun Eng said the matter was considered after their lawyer filed an appeal in court for their temporary release
The reason behind the appeal, she said, is because the women wished to care for their newborns, and to prevent the babies from being handed to the clients.
“[The decision to release the women on bail] lies on whether or not the court believes the women’s intentions. So let’s wait until the court makes the decision. It depends on their’s intentions and answers."
“We have no intention of being unfair to the women. It depends on their behaviour. If they still want to commit the crime, it is their own responsibility,” she said.
However, Bun Eng said that prior to their arrest, three of the 32 had miscarried and one lost her baby during delivery. Nine others had successfully given birth, with two doing so during their detention.
While stressing that “surrogacy is a serious violation of the child’s rights”, she said the women agreed to be surrogates to improve their living conditions.
“But surrogacy does not empower women because one does not have a right to sell one’s own child,” she said.
In March, the Justice Ministry completed the first draft of the Kingdom’s long-awaited surrogacy law.
It is expected to ban commercial surrogacy but permits the altruistic form.
Sous Vichea Randy, the Phnom Penh Municipal Hall’s deputy director of the administrative secretariat, told The Post that the arrested women are being further investigated.
The National Committee for Anti-Human Trafficking said police have unravelled 63 cases of human trafficking and sexual exploitation this year, with the total arrested numbering 122.
Of the figure, the committee said, eight were juveniles and 19 foreigners from nine countries. One hundred and six “victims” aged between 15 and 42 were “rescued”.
Despite the lack of an actual law against the practice, the Health Ministry issued a snap ban on commercial surrogacy in late 2016, and three people – Australian nurse Tammy Davis-Charles and two Cambodian associates, nurse Samrith Chakriya and Commerce Ministry official Penh Rithy – were jailed under existing human trafficking and fraud laws.
Cambodian surrogates who give birth after the January 8 amnesty deadline had passed could face legal prosecution and jail time.