The UN has called on Cambodia to repeal the criminalisation of surrogates.
Cambodia outlawed commercial surrogacy in 2016, following similar bans in India, Nepal and Thailand (see BioNews 915). Last year 30 pregnant surrogates were imprisoned for 'cross-border human trafficking' because they were carrying children for, predominantly Chinese, intended parents. They have since been released on the condition that they raise the children themselves.
The UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) condemned the decision, raising concern that 'such an obligation creates an additional financial and emotional burden on women who are in precarious situations, which led them to act as surrogates in the first place.'
In addition to not receiving the $10,000 they were promised, the women must now raise an unplanned child and 'face discrimination and stigma from their families and communities for having acted as surrogates.'
The Cambodian government argues the arrest of the surrogate mothers themselves was necessary to protect the rights of the unborn children, and that the women were fully aware they were committing a crime and therefore had to be held responsible.
'[The women intended to] exchange their children for money. To bear a child and then sell it is very inhumane,' said Chou Bun Eng, the Secretary of State and Permanent Vice Chair of the National Committee for Counter Trafficking of Cambodia (NCCT).
Conversely, CEDAW considers the women victims, as the current legislation does not 'take into account the unequal relations between the parties to a surrogacy arrangement,' and forms part of more general discrimination against women in Cambodia.
At present, there are no legal or financial consequences for the Chinese clients, highlighting the need for international regulations.
'Surrogate women in Cambodia are likely to be at the sharp end of various economic and political hardships that caused them to make the decision to become a surrogate,' Chak Sopheap, Executive Director of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights told Voice of America.