Foreign couples whose babies were carried by Cambodian surrogates will be able to leave the country with their children if a new temporary exit plan is approved by the prime minister, a government official said on Monday.
Chou Bun Eng, secretary of state with the Interior Ministry and vice chair of the national committee to combat human trafficking, said the plan would cover babies already born to surrogates in the country and unborn children being carried by Cambodian women.
At least a dozen identified parents and intended parents—there are believed to be many more who have not come forward—have found themselves in legal limbo, stranded in the country or awaiting developments from afar after the government banned commercial surrogacies in November.
Their hopes were dealt a blow two weeks ago when Ms. Bun Eng backed down on the government’s previous assurances that foreign parents who had hired surrogates would not face prosecution, saying, “We cannot promise how they will be solved.”
On Monday, however, she moved to assuage parents’ fears and said that an exit strategy had been drafted, in consultation with various ministries, including the Foreign Affairs Ministry, the Justice Ministry and the Interior Ministry.
The strategy had been “sent to the prime minister and is now waiting for his approval,” she said.
Ms. Bun Eng declined to elaborate further but said: “I think that it will not take a long time, because this work needs to be urgent.”
A new full law on commercial surrogacy is still being drafted, she added.
Last night, Chin Malin, spokesman for the Justice Ministry, said: “The mechanism is temporary, just to be able to hand the babies to the parents without violating our Civil Code.”
Cambodia’s Civil Code currently recognizes the woman who carries a baby as being its mother, regardless of who the biological parents are, he added.
After the arrest of an Australian broker, Tammy Davis-Charles, 49, and two of her Cambodian associates, Penh Rithy, 28, a Commerce Ministry officer, and Samrithchan Chariya, 35, a nurse, in November, the government asked all Cambodian surrogates to come forward.
Despite some also being summoned by a Phnom Penh Municipal Court judge, not a single Cambodian woman had identified themselves, according to Ms. Bun Eng.
“I would like to request through a newspaper for them to come forward and there will be no prosecution,” she said on Monday.
So far, 10 parents from countries including the U.S., Australia, Canada and the U.K. whose babies were already born to Cambodian surrogates had approached their embassies for help to take their children out of the country, Ms. Bun Eng added.
The uncertainty has taken its toll on would-be parents, some of whom have already left the country without their surrogate babies.
“I miss them so much and I love them,” said a father of 4-month-old twin boys born to a Cambodian surrogate who has had to return to China for work, leaving his sons behind in Phnom Penh with his elderly parents, in an interview earlier this month.
“When I last saw my mother, I promised them they would get back to China as soon as possible,” he added, speaking on condition of anonymity out of fear that he could cause legal problems for himself or his family.
A same-sex couple, who have so far invested $85,000 in their quest to become parents and were expecting two babies with Cambodian surrogates, also spoke of their concerns about what the future might hold, speaking on condition of anonymity for the same reason.
“We feel angry and hopeless,” said one of the men, who along with his partner is not in Cambodia. “You feel that you don’t have control because everything is done remotely.”
While a legal avenue looks like it may soon open for these and other surrogate parents, Ms. Bun Eng said any parents or intended parents should wait until the exit strategy is approved before coming forward.
“We would like to find out how many of them there are,” she said. “When there are no more, we will stop using it.”