When the government announced a ban on surrogacy last year, foreign parents who had hired Cambodian women to carry their babies received assurances from officials that they would be allowed to safely take their children from the country.
On Tuesday, however, a senior Interior Ministry official backed down on that promise and a guarantee those parents would not face prosecution.
“When there is an agreement, we’ll broadcast it. As for cases that are awaiting resolution, we cannot promise how they will be solved,” said Chou Bun Eng, secretary of state with the Interior Ministry and vice chair of the government’s committee to combat human trafficking.
“When we are presented with cases that need resolution, we will solve them according to Cambodian law,” she added, before hanging up on a reporter.
Her comments signal an apparent about-face for the government following prior assurances to parents and surrogates in December.
In the weeks after Health Minister Mam Bunheng announced a sudden ban on surrogate pregnancies in November, authorities charged Australian nurse and Bangkok-based surrogacy agent Tammy Davis-Charles, 49, and two of her Cambodian associates over their role in connecting foreign parents with surrogate mothers.
Officials were quick to reassure Ms. Davis-Charles’ surrogates and clients that they would be shielded from legal action if they identified themselves to authorities and claimed responsibility for their children.
Weeks later, Ms. Bun Heng made a similar pronouncement she applied to all parents and surrogates.
Stephen Page, an Australian lawyer who specializes in surrogacy, said on Tuesday Ms. Bun Eng’s latest comments would discourage parents from approaching officials.
“The message this gives intended parents is clear: If you talk to Cambodian authorities, you’ll be locked up. So no one will come forward,” he said.
One parent caught up in the uncertainty said he had no idea how he would be reunited with his twins, born in December to a Cambodian surrogate using an egg donor.
“We are Chinese citizens, but our embassy has never helped and they just want to pretend that nothing has happened,” he said.
His sons are being cared for by relatives in Phnom Penh while he has returned to China. What will he do? “I don’t have any clue,” he said.