A Cambodian court on Tuesday charged 18 people, including 11 pregnant women, with violating laws against surrogate births.
Phnom Penh Municipal Court spokesman Ly Sophana said the 11 women and four other people were charged with surrogacy and human trafficking. Three more people were charged with conspiracy but did not appear.
The suspects were arrested last week in a police raid and charged under a law that specifically targets surrogacy, which was outlawed in 2016 after Cambodia became a popular destination for foreigners seeking women to give birth to their children.
Acting as an intermediary between an adoptive parent and a pregnant woman carries a penalty of one to six months in prison. The human trafficking offense is punishable by seven to 15 years’ imprisonment.
Developing countries are popular for surrogacy because costs are much lower than in countries such as the United States and Australia, where surrogate services can cost around $150,000. The surrogacy business boomed in Cambodia after it was put under tight restrictions in neighboring Thailand. There also were crackdowns in India and Nepal. After Cambodia’s crackdown, the trade shifted to neighboring Laos.
In early July, 33 pregnant Cambodian women hired to act as surrogate mothers were formally charged with surrogacy and human trafficking offenses, as were a Chinese man and four Cambodian women accused of managing the business.
In July last year, a Cambodian court sentenced an Australian woman and two Cambodian associates to 1 1/2 years in prison for providing commercial surrogacy services.