Anti-human trafficking police in Phnom Penh’s Russey Keo district arrested five people on Thursday, including a Chinese national, and discovered 33 women who were paid to have children for Chinese clients, the unit’s chief said on Sunday.
Keo Thea, the Phnom Penh anti-trafficking police chief, said Chinese national Liu Qiang, 49, was the alleged mastermind of the surrogacy ring. Four Cambodian women – Svay Sinuch, 34; Noeun Sreylang, 27; Lim Sopheap, 19; and Thai Pheap, 43 – were also arrested for abetting him.
Thea said the accused are being held on human trafficking charges and for being intermediaries for surrogacy, which has been banned in the Kingdom since 2016 as it mulls a draft bill.
According to the latest draft bill, the proposed law is expected to ban the commercial industry but permit altruistic surrogacy. Most commercial surrogacy came to the Kingdom after the practice was banned elsewhere in the region, particularly Thailand.
In August 2017, Australian nurse Tammy Davis-Charles was sentenced to 18 months jail for her role as the founder of a surrogacy agency.
On the latest raid, Thea said the agency had been running for a year, and, thus far, 20 babies have been taken out of the country.
“Those five carried out all the services of a surrogacy program, like bringing the women to be inseminated and tending to the women’s needs. They face seven to 15 years in prison,” he said.
Thea said that the 33 women found on the premises were in various stages of pregnancy and that they were offered up to $10,000 each.
“Some of the women were just one month pregnant and others, eight months. They keep the women in two houses and they lived together under the management’s watchful eyes. They were forced to stay inside the house but were allowed to call their relatives.
“But some of the women did not want their relatives to know what they were doing. The women included garment workers and others that were unemployed. In most cases, they are poor and needed the money.
“We sent the women to the Social Affairs Department in Phnom Penh. The intended parents are mostly Chinese,” Thea said, calling on Cambodians to report suspected surrogacy operations.
Mom Chandany, director of the Phnom Penh Department of Social Affairs, said as soon as the 33 women were handed over to her department, they were sent to partner NGOs.
“We sent them to some partner NGOs immediately because there were a lot of women to take care of. They could get support services from the NGOs . . . Now we need to think about the emotional requirements and safety of the women,” she said.
Chou Bun Eng, the permanent vice chair of the National Committee for Counter Trafficking, said the 33 women may have to face charges as well.
“The only victims are the unborn babies. As for the women, they took a fee. If it is discovered they were involved in trafficking babies, they too will be charged,” she said.