Paid to carry a stranger’s baby - then forced to raise it

Elaine Chong & Tim Whewell - BBC News

"In June last year," says this article from BBC News, "33 pregnant women were arrested and confined to a villa in the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh. All were surrogate mothers bearing children for foreign customers. They have since been released - but on the condition that they bring up the children themselves. The penalty is up to 20 years in jail."

The article shares the story of one young woman who agreed to a surrogacy contract in order to earn some money to eventually have her own children, allegedly unaware that commercial surrogacy was illegal in Cambodia. The article describes the conditions experienced by these 33 women housed in a villa in the nation's capital. 

Soon there were 32 other pregnant mothers there, living five to a room. “The rooms were so small there was no space to walk,” she says. Those who were heavily pregnant wanted to pace up and down, but there was no room - and they weren’t allowed outside.

Eventually, the police intervened and charged the employees of the surrogacy agency that was housing these women with trafficking, then they charged the women. The women were held for several months before being released. Upon their release, they were told that they had to raise the children they'd been carrying until their 18th birthdays or face 20 years in jail. Now, the women and their families must deal with the financial hardships of raising an additional child, and the women have not received the payment they were promised for the surrogacy arrangement, though they have received some support from a local NGO.

"Chou Bun Eung [Cambodia’s deputy interior minister] argues that Cambodia had to ban commercial surrogacy because it is a form of trafficking - she is also the vice-chair of the government’s Anti-Human Trafficking Committee. Wherever commercial surrogacy occurs 'children are victims' she says." One surrogate mother in Cambodia who bore a child for a gay couple in the Netherlands, on the other hand, says “surrogate mothers also do it to help other people who aren’t able to have babies. Maybe the parents are too old, or they’re a gay couple. Surrogates are employed to help them, so to use the term ‘trafficking’ I think is too much.”

The article discusses the practice and industry of surrogacy around the world more broadly and the legal implications both in Cambodia and elsewhere, as well as the experiences of other surrogate mothers and families.