Eleven women allegedly paid to be surrogate mothers have been released on bail after agreeing to keep the babies, Cambodia's trafficking czar said Wednesday, as the poor Southeast Asian nation seeks to regulate the womb-for-hire trade.
They have been in custody since the raid, with some giving birth behind bars. Cambodia issued a snap ban on commercial surrogacy in 2016 after neighbouring Thailand pulled the plug on the trade the previous year -- putting an abrupt end to a thriving industry for hopeful parents, many from Australia and the US.
According to an agency, desperate couples -- mostly from China -- are willing to pay between $40,000 to $100,000 to surrogacy agents to find a Cambodian woman who can carry their child in her womb.
"They were released on bail last month after they promised not to give up their babies," she told AFP.
But the charges against them stand and the women could be prosecuted at any time if "they sell the babies", she said, adding that a draft surrogacy law is still under discussion, and could see the trade formally outlawed.
Rights groups have criticised authorities for coercing women to raise babies who bear no biological ties to them in order to avoid jail time.
Surrogates are typically from poor communities and receive a fraction of the sum paid to agents -- typically between $10,0000 to $15,000 to carry a child to term. Sam Everingham, founder of Families Through Surrogacy, an Australian non-profit, said the case of the 11 women is "tragic", with the surrogates and intended parents being the victims.
"The young infants are simply collateral damage," he told AFP. "The real felons here are the surrogacy agents and agencies who convinced naive surrogates and intended parents" to act in an environment where the practice is unlawful.
In December, 32 Cambodian women paid to carry babies for Chinese clients were also released on bail after agreeing to keep the children.
(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)