Thirty pregnant Cambodian women who were carrying babies on behalf of Chinese clients have been discovered during a raid on an illegal commercial surrogacy operation.
Colonel Keo Thea, chief of the Anti-Human Trafficking and Juvenile Protection Office in Phnom Penh, said yesterday that the raid was carried out on Thursday, when authorities made five arrests and rescued the pregnant women, as well as three other women.
Cambodia had been a popular international destination for infertile couples looking to have babies through commercial surrogacy even though it is was made illegal in 2016.
Col Thea identified the five suspects as Liu Qiang,, a 49-year-old Chinese national; Svay Sreynoch, 34; Koeun Sreylang, 27; Lim Sopheap, 19; and Thai Pheap, 43.
“Among these five suspects, the Chinese suspect Liu Qiang was the general manager in charge of the business and supervising the four Cambodian staffers and the pregnant women,” Col Thea said. “He was also responsible for sending the pregnant women to China.”
“The four Cambodian staff were responsible for seeking poor Cambodian women to carry the babies,” he added.
Col Thea said that according to interviews with the pregnant women, they were hired by the Chinese suspect and promised $10,000 to carry the babies.
Col Thea said the pregnant women, some of whom had just conceived and others who are due for delivery soon, were given $500 cash at first, and then $300 per month while carrying the baby.
After delivery, they were to get the remaining $6,000 from the Chinese suspect, who was operating the scheme under the business name Fertility Solutions PGD, he said.
Col Thea added that the surrogacy operation had already provided about 20 babies to clients in China.
“Some were born in China and some were born in Cambodia,” he said.
Major Phath Phalla, deputy chief of the Anti-Human Trafficking and Juvenile Protection Office in Phnom Penh, said the five suspects have been accused by police of two charges, including the act of selling, buying or exchanging a person for cross border transfer and being an intermediary for surrogacy.
Maj Phalla said the five suspects remain detained at his office for further questioning and are due to make their first court appearance today.
He added that the 30 pregnant women, who do not face any charges, have been sent to a municipal rehabilitation centre. The remaining three, cooks and cleaners, have been released.
“Police are now seeking to arrest two other Chinese nationals who were the ringleaders of this case,” he noted.
Chhan Sokunthea, head of women’s and children’s rights with Adhoc, said that surrogacy was the newest form of exploitation to the Kingdom.
She said that while Cambodia is still drafting a law on surrogacy, foreigners are taking the opportunity to run illegal businesses.
“The hiring of Cambodian women to be pregnant is considered human being trafficking and a violation of children and women’s rights,” she said. “The children could end up being trafficked. Sometimes, people adopt those children to sell their organs.”
“I hope the government speeds up the establishment of the law against surrogacy,” she added.
Thailand and India have blocked foreigners from using commercial surrogacy services following a series of cases that raised concern about exploitation.
Thailand banned the practice in 2015 and subsequently several Thai clinics move across the border into Cambodia until commercial surrogacy was banned there the following year.