A court in Cambodia has charged an Australian woman and two Cambodians with violating the country's new ban on providing commercial surrogacy services.
Keo Thea, chief of Cambodia's anti-human trafficking bureau, said Tammy Davis-Charles, 49, was too ill to come to court on Monday and was charged in absentia. She and two Cambodian associates were detained on Friday. The charges against them concern falsifying documents and human trafficking, making them liable for up to two years in prison.
Mr Thea said Ms Davis-Charles ran a company that paid poor Cambodians for surrogate pregnancies. He said Ms Davis-Charles charged her clients around $50,000 (£40,105) for the service, and paid the surrogate mothers $10,000-12,000.
The Health Ministry issued the ban in October, but there is not yet a criminal penalty for the practice. Cambodia became a popular destination for people seeking surrogate mothers after India and Thailand banned surrogate services for foreigners in 2015. Ms Davis-Charles set up shop in Cambodia after previously running a similar operation in Thailand, according to Mr Thea.
Developing countries are popular for surrogacy because costs are much lower than in nations such as the United States and Australia, where many clients originate and where surrogate services are around $150,000.
“These surrogate mothers, they are poor women from the countryside and they were cheated by the company to serve as surrogates,” Mr Thea said, accusing the clinic run by Ms Davis-Charles of being unconcerned about the health risks to the surrogates.
He said at least five surrogates have given birth to six children and more than 20 others are pregnant. Most of the clients were reportedly from Australia.
The Cambodia Daily reported that Cambodian officials would meet with the pregnant surrogates and representatives of the Australian embassy to discuss how to resolve the surrogacies still in progress.