Nearly six months after the Health Ministry banned surrogate pregnancies, Prime Minister Hun Sen has approved an exit strategy allowing babies born to Cambodian surrogates to leave the country.
The move may end a long wait for foreign couples, some of whom have resorted to trying to take their babies out of Cambodia by traveling through Vietnam, according to an industry expert.
Chou Bun Eng, secretary of state with the Interior Ministry and vice chair of the national committee to combat human trafficking, confirmed on Sunday that Mr. Hun Sen had signed off on the strategy, more than a month after it was put forward for his approval.
“Yes, he already dropped [it] back. He approved,” Ms. Bun Eng said.
The strategy will be a temporary measure allowing foreign parents to take their babies born to Cambodian surrogates out of the country. It will apply to babies already born and to unborn children being carried by Cambodian women, Ms. Bun Eng said.
Dozens of foreign couples have been left in legal limbo, uncertain when or if they might be united with their babies, since the government placed a ban on commercial surrogacy in October.
Fed up with the Cambodian government’s delays in approving the exit strategy, some foreign parents have been trying to get their babies home by transporting them through Vietnam, according to an industry expert.
“Currently, parents are exiting via Vietnam instead,” the expert, who wished to remain anonymous, wrote in a message.
The expert said babies were being taken to Vietnam after being born in Cambodia.
“Apparently the birth is in Cambodia, then [they] obtain a Cambodian passport [for the baby] and the surrogate travels to Vietnam with the child and the intended parent,” the expert said.
Ms. Bun Eng on Sunday declined to elaborate on the details of the strategy, saying the government would make an official announcement. However, she did say the process would involve court procedures.
Cambodia’s Civil Code currently recognizes the woman who carries a baby as its mother, regardless of who the biological parents are.
“It has to follow Cambodian law. When it is announced, it will have all the details. Maybe this Monday [today] it will be announced, because Samdech [Mr. Hun Sen] has already signed it,” she said, adding that the strategy would only be temporarily implemented and cover only existing surrogacy cases.
“We put out this program addressing those who are currently pregnant and those who already gave birth,” she said.
“It is a solution for the cases that already exist.”
Ms. Bun Eng said parents would have limited time to use the exit strategy.
“We need to make an announcement and from the date of the announcement, a timeframe needs to be determined,” she said.
“We think that we will finish implementing it in nine months and 10 days after the announcement…. If after having received the announcement there are still new cases, then we will need to have a new measure,” she added.
Ms. Bun Eng warned that parents who do not step forward to use the exit strategy would face serious consequences.
“If they try to hide, they have no rights to take the babies out,” she said. “If they tell us, they have the rights, because we want this exit strategy to be able to allow them to take [babies] with them.”
She said the government was not aware of any intended parents trying to take babies out of Cambodia via Vietnam. However, she stressed that, if such a person was caught, they could face criminal charges.
New legislation on commercial surrogacy is still being drafted.
Women’s Affairs Ministry spokesman Phon Puthborey said the surrogacy law, which the ministry is working on with help from other concerned ministries, was likely to be finished at the end of the year.
Less than a month after the ban, Australian surrogacy broker Tammy Davis-Charles was arrested by anti-human trafficking police in November for operating a surrogacy clinic along with two of her Cambodian associates.
Chheang Sophorn, the lawyer for Ms. Davis-Charles, who is being held in provisional detention at Phnom Penh’s Prey Sar prison, said he planned to push for her hearing to take place later this month.
Sam Everingham, director of Australia-based advocacy group Families Through Surrogacy, said the Cambodian government had been too slow in coming up with a strategy for how foreign couples could leave the country with their babies.
“The Cambodian government has taken far too long to issue a clear directive on exit strategies for existing surrogacy cases, which is causing great stress to many Cambodian surrogates and their intended parents,” he said.