Eleven surrogate mothers who were jailed while pregnant in November have been released on bail, a senior Interior Ministry official said on Thursday.
Nouth Savna, spokesman for the ministry’s general department of prisons, told VOD that the surrogates had been freed after agreeing to keep their babies themselves.
“They promised to raise the babies, so now they are no longer at the prison. I don’t know any further details,” Savna said.
Khot Dara, the chief of Correctional Center 2, where the women were held, said the 11 had been released ahead of Khmer New Year in April.
Three of them had delivered their babies at the National Maternal and Child Health Center during their incarcerations, Dara said.
The women were arrested in Phnom Penh’s Sen Sok district in November as part of an ongoing crackdown on illegal surrogacy in the country.
Five months earlier, more than 30 surrogate mothers were arrested and charged with human trafficking for allegedly carrying babies for Chinese nationals. They faced up to 20 years in prison, but were released in December after agreeing to keep their babies.
It was not clear which country the intended parents were from for the 11 surrogate mothers in the most recent case.
The government banned surrogacy in 2016, a year after Thailand outlawed the practice and caused the burgeoning and controversial trade to shift to Cambodia.
The surrogacy cases prosecuted so far — the first, in 2016, involved Australian surrogacy broker Tammy Davis-Charles — have been pursued under anti-human trafficking laws. To regulate the practice in a more targeted way, however, the Women’s Affairs Ministry has been working to develop a Surrogacy Law.
Women’s Affairs Ministry spokesman Phon Puthborey said the recent cases of illegal surrogacy were causing setbacks in the law’s progress.
“We actually finished our first draft of the Surrogacy Law last year around July, but after the two latest cases kept happening we weren’t happy with it,” Puthborey said. “We need to take a step back to review it again to check whether we have covered everything.”
“I am not sure when the Surrogacy Law will be finished, to be honest. We don’t want our women to become baby producers.”
Puthborey added that he did not know specific details about the 11 women involved in the most recent case.
Chou Bun Eng, the permanent vice-chair of the National Committee for Counter Trafficking, could not be reached for comment.