A Cambodian court has sentenced an Australian woman to 18 months in prison for providing commercial surrogacy services in the impoverished country.
Cambodia banned the “womb for rent” business last year after Thailand and India – following a wave of scandals and allegations of exploitation – blocked foreigners paying poor local women to be surrogates.
Tammy Davis-Charles, who was arrested in November, appeared stunned as the judge read the guilty verdict and sentence on Thursday.
Two Cambodian associates were also handed 18-month jail terms. Samrith Chan Chakrya, who served as an interpreter for Davis-Charles, cried when she heard the verdict and said she would appeal.
The court also ordered Davis-Charles to pay 4 million riel, about $1,000, in fines to the state. The Cambodian defendants were fined 2 million riel ($500) each.
Police said Davis-Charles moved from Thailand to take advantage of the demand for surrogates, charging Australian clients up to $50,000 for each request.
More than 20 Cambodian surrogates were brought into the trade and received around $10,000 each.
Judge Sor Lina said Davis-Charles was “aware that launching surrogacy services was illegal in Cambodia but she continued working and convincing Cambodian women to be surrogate mothers”.
Lina said Davis-Charles provided surrogacy services to 23 Australian and American couples and paid Penh Rithy $600 to $800 to organise paperwork for babies born through Cambodian surrogate mothers so that they could leave Cambodia with their parents.
Davis-Charles, who denied the charges, was also convicted of falsifying documents.
In previous court appearances, she said she had “lost everything” since her arrest and wanted to be reunited with her family in Australia, including her twin sons.
She has said she launched her business in Cambodia only after consulting three local lawyers who assured her the clinic was legal.
During the trial, several Cambodian women who served as surrogates said they were not coerced.
Developing countries are popular for surrogacy because costs are much lower than in nations such as the US and Australia, where surrogate services are around $150,000.
The surrogacy business boomed in Cambodia because of its cheap medical costs, a large pool of poor young women and no laws excluding gay couples or single parents.
After shuttering the trade in late 2016, authorities have refused to recognise birth certificates for babies, leaving many foreign couples in limbo.
However, in April this year, the government said it would allow foreign couples to return home with babies if they could prove they were conceived before the ban on commercial surrogacy.
After Cambodia’s crackdown, the trade has shifted to neighboring Laos.
Source: News agencies