32 sur­ro­gate moms on traf­fick­ing charges re­leased

The Star Early Edition - - WORLD - JARED FER­RIE

CAM­BO­DIA has re­leased 32 women who were de­tained while preg­nant on charges of hu­man traf­fick­ing for act­ing as sur­ro­gate moth­ers for Chi­nese cou­ples, a gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial said yes­ter­day.

The women, de­tained in July, were freed on bail this week after promis­ing to raise the chil­dren them­selves, said Chou Bun Eng, sec­re­tary of state for the Min­istry of In­te­rior.

“We re­quested (the court) to re­lease them on pro­ba­tion un­der watch,” she said.

Po­lice have said each woman was promised $10 000 (R141 000) for car­ry­ing a baby for Chi­nese clients.

“We do not know yet who are the peo­ple who wanted the ba­bies,” said Chou Bun Eng, adding the moth­ers be­came at­tached to the in­fants dur­ing their preg­nan­cies and wanted to keep them.

“All have a com­mit­ment, be­cause of love for the child de­vel­oped in their wombs,” she said.

The women were dis­cov­ered in po­lice raids at two flats in the cap­i­tal, Phnom Penh, in June. They were charged in July with cross-bor­der hu­man traf­fick­ing. Five other Cam­bo­di­ans and one a Chi­nese na­tional were also charged for in­volve­ment in the sur­ro­gacy ring, po­lice said.

Mem­bers of the Agape In­ter­na­tional Mis­sions (AIM), a Chris­tian anti-hu­man traf­fick­ing char­ity, ac­com­pa­nied po­lice on the raid, AIM said.

The women were ini­tially pro­vided ac­com­mo­da­tion by AIM and given meals, med­i­cal care and coun­selling, the group said.

AIM said it con­tin­ued to pro­vide as­sis­tance after the women were ar­rested and trans­ferred to a po­lice hospi­tal.

“We be­lieve that with the nec­es­sary equip­ping and sup­port, these 32 fam­i­lies will be­come mod­els of lov­ing Chris­tian fam­i­lies pos­i­tively im­pact­ing the com­mu­ni­ties in which they live,” the group said.

Cam­bo­dia is 97% Bud­dhist, with Chris­tians ac­count­ing for less than 1% of the pop­u­la­tion.

An AIM staff mem­ber said the char­ity con­tin­ued to pro­vide as­sis­tance to the women, but de­clined to com­ment fur­ther. Cam­bo­dia was a pop­u­lar in­ter­na­tional des­ti­na­tion for cou­ples look­ing to have ba­bies through com­mer­cial sur­ro­gacy but the prac­tice was made il­le­gal in 2016.

Since then, Cam­bo­dia has been crack­ing down on sur­ro­gacy.

In 2017, an Aus­tralian nurse and two Cam­bo­dian as­sis­tants were found guilty of run­ning an il­le­gal com­mer­cial sur­ro­gacy clinic.

The nurse was re­leased ear­lier this year, ac­cord­ing to lo­cal me­dia re­ports.

Neigh­bour­ing Thai­land has also banned sur­ro­gacy and much of the busi­ness has shifted to Laos, where dozens of fer­til­ity clin­ics have ap­peared dur­ing the past few years. | Thom­son Reuters Foun­da­tion

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