Prosecutors at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court charged 18 people on Tuesday, including three in absentia, for their involvement in surrogacy after 15 of them were arrested in the capital’s Sen Sok district on November 8.
Reached for comment on Tuesday, municipal court spokesman Ly Sophanna said that 14 of them had been charged with cross-border human trafficking and unlawful intermediary roles between adoptive parents and surrogate mothers.
“After comprehensively reviewing the case, the prosecution decided to charge 14 suspects under Article 16 of the Law on the Suppression of Human Trafficking and Article 332 of the Criminal Code.
“The other four suspects have been charged with conspiracy to traffic humans across the border and acting as intermediaries between adoptive parents and surrogate mothers,” Sophanna said.
Touch Sarein, the deputy chief of the municipal anti-human trafficking and juvenile protection bureau, told The Post on Tuesday that authorities are hunting down the other suspects.
“We continue to investigate the surrogate mothers, some of whom are garment workers and some who stayed at home [unemployed],” he said.
The bureau previously said on Sunday that there were two men and 13 women among the 15 detainees. Of the 13 women, 11 were pregnant.
In late October, Interior Ministry secretary of state Chou Bun Eng said a defence lawyer for another 32 surrogate mothers submitted a document to the court requesting bail for them so that they could raise their children.
They also promised not to send their children to the adoptive parents.
Thida Khus, the executive director of NGO Silaka, said surrogate mothers should be treated as victims. She said because there is no surrogacy law in place, their actions could not be considered illegal.
“[Authorities] accuse them of acting against the law, but we don’t have a surrogacy law yet. We should not accuse them of trafficking based on the human trafficking law. It is not the right timing. We lag behind in terms of surrogacy techniques. They didn’t know it’s illegal,” she said.
Khus appealed for a speedy passage and promulgation of the surrogacy law before more women fall victim to the practice.
Ministry of Women’s Affairs spokesman Pon Putborei said the ministry is concerned about the ongoing cases.
“The ministry is proposing a meeting [with relevant authorities] to discuss the drafting of a surrogacy law and its enforcement. We are looking at the first draft to determine whether it covers the new [surrogacy] cases. Cambodian women should know that it’s a problem,” he said.
Interior Ministry secretary of state Chou Bun Eng could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.