The community in which more than thirty surrogate mothers were arrested last month said on Thursday that such an act would never have been knowingly permitted by villagers living in the area due to their religious beliefs.
Last month, officials rescued about 30 Cambodian surrogate mothers at two villas in Chraing Chamres II commune in Phnom Penh’s Russey Keo district.
Five people running the surrogacy business were charged by Phnom Penh Municipal Court with human trafficking. Among the accused was a Chinese national who police said was the ringleader of the operation.
As for the surrogate mothers, they were rescued but have since been charged by the court with human trafficking as well.
Sos Ty, chief of the Muslim village where the raids occurred, said that there are 300 Khmer-Muslim women in the area and denied that any of them were involved because their religion forbid pregnancy out of wedlock.
He said that the community was surprised to hear that the raid was conducted in their community.
Mr Ty added that surrogacy was unheard of because it was considered a form of adultery and against the teachings of Islam.
“[Those involved] were outsiders, they came from other places,” he said, adding that the offence was theoretically punishable by 100 lashes, and noting that the penalty was death for a woman impregnated outside of her marriage.
“Today, there is no real punishment for those who commit those acts here in the area,” Mr Ty said. “We can’t do that any more since we have to respect human rights.”
He added that if such a thing would happen today, the would-be surrogate mothers would simply be informed and be advised against it.
“Even if they live in poor conditions, the act could never be permitted,” Mr Ty said. “What we would do if we heard that brokers are coming to lure women in the village to become surrogate mothers is advise the women to not go through with it.”
Ah Phi Ny, a 20-year-old student from the village, said that she was taught to reject surrogacy by teachers at school.
“Surrogacy is a sin, it’s forbidden by my religion and my teacher told me to stay away from it,” she said.
However, for 75-year-old Sen Nah, the punishment for being pregnant outside of wedlock is more immediate as villagers tend to look down upon the act and actively shun those found guilty.
“The villagers will discriminate against them for breaking the rules,” she said. “The villagers will not speak to them.”
Community religious leader Sai Nob, who is in charge of women and children issues, said that Khmer-Muslims tend to stay away from surrogacy regardless of the money offered.
“A woman has to be pregnant with her husband. If they get pregnant without a husband then they are bad women,” she said. “[Khmer-Muslim women] consider surrogacy a sin and they don’t dare to take money from brokers for it.”
Ministry of Cults and Religion spokesman Seng Somony said yesterday that Muslims and Buddhists share some conservative beliefs, especially against pregnancy outside of wedlock. However, Mr Somony noted that the punishment is more severe with Muslims.
“Their punishments used to be strict; women were beaten or stoned to death,” he said. “But now, because of the issue of human rights, they stopped.”
“For Buddhists, it is said that it’s a sin,” Mr Somony added. “But as for the law, surrogacy is a crime and one could be charged under laws regulating human trafficking.”
The Cambodian government is preparing a draft law against surrogacy. The draft law is set to protect women and babies involved.
Even though surrogacy is not specifically covered by the law, it is still illegal. Most of the accused are charged under anti-human trafficking laws.
In July last year, the Interior Ministry met diplomats from ten embassies in order to inform them that surrogacy is illegal in Cambodia, amid international controversy and fear of exploitation.
Chou Bun Eng, chair of the National Committee for Counter Trafficking, said on Thursday that law enforcement was having a hard time keeping up with surrogacy brokers.
“They always have new tricks to lure our women and to benefit from it,” Ms Bun Eng said.