Cambodia nabs Australian nurse in surrogacy crackdown

PHNOM PENH • An Australian nurse and fertility specialist has been arrested for allegedly running an illegal surrogacy service in Cambodia, the country's anti-human trafficking police said yesterday.

The arrest was made just weeks after Cambodia became the latest country to ban commercial surrogacy.

Tammy Davis-Charles, 49, was arrested on Friday, along with two Cambodians, during a raid on a rented house in Phnom Penh, said Anti-Human Trafficking Office head Keo Thea. "She has been arrested for being an intermediary in surrogacy and for falsifying documents," he said.

"Australian people who wanted kids would contact her and she would charge US$50,000 (S$71,300) for each request."

Colonel Keo Thea said Davis-Charles moved to Cambodia from Thailand more than a year ago, and arranged for about 23 Cambodian women to carry babies for Australian couples. "Five babies have been born," he said, adding that a Cambodian girl received between US$10,000 and US$12,000 in each case.

Davis-Charles, who is from Melbourne, is expected in court today for questioning.

She could face up to two years in jail if convicted, Col Keo Thea said. He added that it was the first arrest involving surrogacy in Cambodia.

Earlier this month, Cambodia banned commercial surrogacy, after curbs on the industry in other parts of the globe sparked a local boom in the unregulated baby business.

Surrogacy agencies started springing up in the South-east Asian nation after former hubs like Thailand and India blocked foreigners from accessing surrogacy services following a flurry of scandals and concerns about exploitation.

With cheap medical costs and no laws excluding gay couples or single parents, Cambodia quickly absorbed much of the demand. But a government edict sent to Cambodian fertility clinics earlier this month said surrogacy was now "absolutely banned".

The order, issued by the Health Ministry last week, asked all medical professionals to comply with the injunction, though it did not spell out penalties.

Cambodia now has about 50 surrogacy agents, a number of which cropped up in the past year, according to experts.

Thailand's military government last year passed a law banning foreign couples from using Thai women as surrogates after issues such as tussles over custody tainted the industry.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 21, 2016, with the headline 'Cambodia nabs Australian nurse in surrogacy crackdown'. Print Edition | Subscribe