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Surrogates left in limbo after arrests

Australian nurse Tammy Davis-Charles (bottom right) talks to Phnom Penh police last week after she was arrested for engaging in surrogacy. National Police
Australian nurse Tammy Davis-Charles (bottom right) talks to Phnom Penh police last week after she was arrested for engaging in surrogacy. National Police

Surrogates left in limbo after arrests

Just days after anti-trafficking police arrested three people for their involvement in Cambodia’s underground surrogacy industry, one surrogate mother recruited by the trio called on Cambodia’s government to legalise the industry.

“We are poor, so I want our government to let us do surrogacy legally so that we will not be cheated and we will have someone to protect us,” said 32-year-old Chan Nareth, who is five months’ pregnant with the child of a Chinese couple.

Nareth is one of 23 women recruited by Australian national Tammy Davis-Charles, founder of the surrogacy agency Fertility Solutions PGD, who was arrested on Friday along with two Cambodian nationals.

The trio is being charged under Article 332 of the Penal Code, which was originally drafted to combat child trafficking and prohibits acting as an intermediary between adoptive parents and a pregnant woman.

Nareth yesterday told the Post she had received $400 a month from the agency, and was expecting to receive about $6,000 more after the baby’s delivery. Now, however, she is afraid the arrests will cause her to lose her stipend.

“I am so worried about my pay next month,” Nareth said.

Commercial surrogacy arrived in Cambodia a little over a year ago after it was banned in Thailand, India and Nepal. The Kingdom does not have a law that directly applies to surrogacy, but over the past few months, the government began stating its intention to ban the industry. The arrest of the trio was the first in Cambodia for activities related to surrogacy.

Prosecutor Seng Chheang finished questioning the three suspects yesterday, said Ey Rin, administrative chief at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court. They will be sent to an investigative judge for additional questioning today.

Meanwhile, surrogate mothers in Cambodia aren’t the only ones thrown into limbo by the arrests. According to Josh Lam, founder of Thailand-based New Genetics Global, foreign prospective parents travelling to Cambodia, many of whom are Australian, could face administrative difficulties when trying to get babies born to a surrogate out of the country.

“Some of the documents require the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to certify them, but [parents] can’t get them certified. They are going to talk to the embassy to see if the embassy can accept the documents without the certification,” Lam said, adding that he is confident the Australian Embassy can find a way to help the parents.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not respond to requests for comment. The Australian Embassy confirmed it is providing consular services to its arrested citizen, but declined to comment on the cases of prospective parents, citing confidentiality.

Calling into question the idea that legalising surrogacy would protect surrogate mothers, Rodrigo Montero, gender adviser for German international development agency GIZ, said the government should instead address long-term poverty issues.

“According to experiences from other countries, legalisation of surrogacy does not prevent women from exploitation or malpractices,” Montero said. “In countries like Cambodia where health systems and law enforcement are very weak, the legalisation of surrogacy . . . opens the door for more and more abuses.”

Nareth, meanwhile, said she would find another way to make a living if the compensation was comparable.

“I would rather do some other job instead of surrogacy,” she said. “But I want the money, because we are poor, we can save some money, and the pay [for surrogacy] is very high.”

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