Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Friday charged 33 women with human trafficking after they were detained following a raid on a surrogacy business in the capital last month.
Court spokesman Ly Sophanna said on Friday that a judge decided to detain the women for allegedly violating article 16 of the Law on the Suppression of Human Trafficking and and Sexual Exploitation.
“Those women were questioned and the court listened to them,” Mr Sophanna said. “They are now in jail for detention.”
Article 16 of the law stipulates that the buying or exchanging of a person for profit is illegal and could carry a jail sentence of up to 20 years.
After the raid last month, the municipal court charged the five leaders of the surrogacy business with human trafficking.
Court documents identified the accused as Liu Qiang, a Chinese national who’s accused of being the ringleader, and Cambodians Svay Sreynoch, Koeun Sreylang, Lim Sopheap and Thai Pheap.
Chou Bun Eng, chair of the National Authority Against Human Trafficking, said yesterday that the surrogate mothers are being held in an undisclosed location.
“We cannot tell you the place where the women are staying because we want to protect their rights and the court still needs time to examine the case,” she said. “We can’t tell you where they are staying because we want to keep them safe.”
Mom Chandany, director of Phnom Penh’s department of social affairs, said that the 33 women were sent to the social affairs department to have their health checked.
“They were detained, but we still had to check the stability of their physical condition,” Ms Chandany said.
Cambodia does not yet have a law on surrogacy, but the practice has been banned and cases prosecuted using the human trafficking law.
Ms Bun Eng said that intended parents come from countries like in Europe, while mothers tend to be in Thailand, Nepal, and now in Cambodia following the outlawing of surrogacy in neighbouring countries.
“The trend flowed to Cambodia, especially in Phnom Penh, after crackdowns in India, Thailand and Nepal,” she said.
In August last year, the court sentenced Australian nurse Tammy Davis-Charles and two Cambodians to 18 months in jail each for their role in a surrogacy business that began in Thailand.
The US State Department said earlier this month that Cambodia ranked in Tier 2 in regards to its efforts in combating human trafficking.
According to a National Police report, in 2017 police cracked down on more than 150 human and sex trafficking cases. It added that officials arrested 187 people and rescued more than 300 victims.