Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Tuesday questioned three women who were allegedly hired to be surrogate mothers and sell their babies to Chinese nationals after the Ministry of Interior’s Anti-Human Trafficking Department & juvenile protection police sent them to court following their arrest in Vietnam.
Phnom Penh Municipal Court spokesperson Kuch Kimlong told The Post on Tuesday that the three Cambodian women were being questioned by a prosecutor.
The alleged surrogate mothers hail from Kandal province, said Chhiv Phally, the director of the Ministry of Interior’s Anti-Human Trafficking and Juvenile Protection Department. One woman is aged 31 while the other two are 32.
Phally told The Post on Tuesday that Vietnamese police detained the women inside Vietnamese territory and returned them to Cambodia because they had crossed the border illegally.
He said they had travelled to Vietnam to deliver their children to Chinese nationals, with each baby being sold for $8,000.
Phally said he could not provide more detailed information because he first had to report to National Police chief General Neth Savoeun.
Chou Bun Eng, the Ministry of Interior’s secretary of state and permanent vice-chairperson of the National Committee for Counter Trafficking, said: “So far, we have been able to crack down on 43 cases of surrogate mothers."
“Most of the children born to surrogate mothers were intended to be sent to China and a number of cases are still being investigated by the court."
“The three surrogate mothers who were sent to court on Tuesday are new cases that have recently been busted.”
She said that even though the authorities continue to take action against offenders, people still committed the crime.
Bun Eng said draft laws that stipulate the punishment for surrogate motherhood and child trafficking are currently being reviewed and debated by the Ministry of Interior.
The next session to review the draft laws, Bun Eng said, will take place later this month.
She said that while the laws to address this issue have not yet been approved or published, some punishments for the crime can be found in the Criminal Code, so offenders can still be punished under existing laws.
“The surrogate mothers are not paid to be pregnant, but the infants are sent abroad without any proper legal permission because we have no laws that allow the sending of infants abroad. Therefore, crackdowns continue to be made but we cannot stop all the offenders. The authorities are investigating many different criminal activities."
“In 2017, the authorities offered them a chance. The government announced that anybody who wanted a baby through a surrogate mother or would like to confirm an infant has their DNA can come to the court to ask for permission."
“They were given one year to fulfil any legal procedures. However, at the time, no one came and the government discontinued the procedure. From then on, we started to crack down and punish offenders,” Bun Eng said.
Am Sam Ath, monitoring manager at the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defence of Human Rights (Licadho), said the factors leading people to commit the crime are a poor standard of living and a lack of awareness of the law.
He said women who feel forced to act as surrogate mothers because they are so desperate for money should be seen as victims.
Although Cambodia has several laws about the crime, Sam Ath said, they are not clearly stated and it is thus difficult to raise awareness, so people’s understanding of the issue remains limited.
“It’s a new problem in Cambodia. The authorities’ ability to take action and to stamp it out remain limited because they don’t have much experience of the issue. Most women don’t know that it’s illegal,” he said.
Acknowledging that the draft law was under discussion, Sam Ath nevertheless called for the authorities to put in more effort to raise awareness of current laws and educate people about the issue of surrogate motherhood.