A Phnom Penh Municipal Court prosecutor on Thursday charged a Chinese national and four Cambodian women with human trafficking and being intermediaries for surrogacy, while a government official said the women allegedly acting as surrogates could face charges as well.
On June 24, anti-human trafficking police in Phnom Penh’s Russey Keo district arrested five people allegedly running an illegal surrogacy agency and discovered 33 women in various stages of pregnancy living on the premises.
The 33 women are believed to have been acting as paid surrogates for Chinese clients.
Court Prosecutor Kuch Kimlong said he had already submitted a report to the office of investigative judges.
Sous Vichyea Randy, the court’s deputy administration chief, said the prosecutor charged all five under Article 16 of the Law on Suppression of Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation and Article 332 of the Criminal Code.
Based on Article 16, the five could face up to 20 years in prison because the “offence was committed by an organised group”.
Under Article 332 of the Criminal Code, which concerns being the intermediary to adoptive parents, they face one to six months in prison.
Chou Bun Eng, the permanent vice chair of the National Committee for Counter Trafficking, said the 33 pregnant women will be responsible for the raising of the children, despite the fact they have no genetic connection with the fetuses. Bun Eng said the women may have to face charges as well.
When asked what the women’s liability might be if they got an abortion, she said: “I don’t know what the court would say. If they just seek an abortion to ‘delete the evidence’ to get themselves out of legal jeopardy, we would not let them do that.
“We feel it’s important for the women to be responsible for the children in their womb,” she said, adding that just because there is no genetic connection doesn’t mean they can’t be loving parents."
“Under Cambodian law, women are the mothers of children in their womb. Just because you are poor, does not mean you don’t think about the lives of others,” Bun Eng said, stressing that the 33 women haven’t been accused or charged with anything as yet.
Ministry of Women’s Affairs spokesman Phon Puthborey could not be reached for comment.