Thirty-two women were temporarily detained at a police hospital after being charged by the investigating judge at Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Thursday with involvement in a human trafficking and surrogacy brokering racket.
Head of the General Department of Prisons at the Ministry of Interior Sorn Keo said: “The 32 women were sent to 16 Usaphea Police Hospital.”
Meanwhile, five people who were arrested on suspicion of being the brokers in the case face 20 years in prison according to Article 16 of the Criminal Code.
Ey Rin, the court’s administrative director, said that judge Kao Vandy, the deputy municipal court director, detained the 32 women on charges of attempting to sell, buy or exchange a person for cross-border transfer and acting as intermediaries between an adoptive parent and a pregnant woman, based on Article 16 of the Law on the Suppression of Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation, and Article 332 of the Criminal Code.
Article 332 states that an intermediary between an adoptive parent and a pregnant woman can face one to six months in prison.
Similarly issued with arrest warrants were Noeun Sreylang, 27 and Thai Pheap, 43, who are suspected of acting as managers, and Lem Sopheap, known as Sderng, 19, who is suspected of acting as the interpreter. Like the 32 women, they too were charged under the same Acts.
This was after anti-human trafficking police arrested the five in Phnom Penh’s Russey Keo district on June 21 over the creation of an illegal surrogacy agency.
During the operation, police discovered the 32 pregnant women on the property. The women were believed to be intended surrogate mothers for Chinese adopters.
In May, the Interior Ministry postponed sending a draft surrogacy bill before the Council of Ministers for further study.
Ros Sopheap, the executive director of gender equality group Gender and Development Cambodia, said: “We cannot condone keeping these women in prison because they are victims.
“They are poor with few options and wouldn’t have known how surrogacy could affect their life and health and that it is wrong. They just do it [to make money], and $10,000 is a lot to them.“
“They [couldn’t have] known that the activity is illegal because we do not have a law banning [it yet]. Where does it say that this act is illegal?”
Chou Bun Eng, deputy director of the permanent committee for anti-human trafficking, said it was the opinion of the court that the arrested women intended to hand over their children in exchange for money.
“They [intended to] exchange their children for money. What we prioritise as the victim is the baby inside the mother. To bear a child and then sell it is very inhumane,” he said.
“We need to take care of the mothers so that they can take care of the baby. This is the responsibility of the government. They will not be considered prisoners because they are pregnant. We are taking care of them well,” he said.
In 2015, Cambodia became a go-to destination for those seeking surrogacy after the practice was banned in Thailand, India and Nepal.
Last year, National Police worked with provincial and municipal prosecutors on 159 cases of human trafficking and sexual exploitation, with 203 people arrested. One hundred and thirteen people were arrested in 2016.
They included 20 foreigners from eight nationalities – three Vietnamese, two British, two Dutch, one Japanese and an American. Authorities rescued 345 babies last year.