The government will meet this month to begin addressing concerns that the lack of regulation for the surrogacy trade could lead to a proliferation of brokers working in Cambodia and foreign couples traveling to the country to take advantage of their services.
The Ministry of Women’s Affairs is planning a meeting in the next week to discuss surrogacy and its impact on the country, and start to formulate the government’s response, said Phon Puthborey, a ministry spokesman.
Formal invitations were sent to relevant ministries and national and international development groups this week, he said, declining to name the ministries or organizations, or identify the exact date of the meeting.
“The Ministry of Women’s Affairs is seeking…to better understand the impacts of the issue and identify potential further actions to be taken to protect the rights of Cambodian women and children,” he said in an email on Wednesday.
“At the moment, the ministry is closely looking at the issue, although there is no official information regarding surrogacy cases in Cambodia.”
Marc Derveeuw, the U.N. Population Fund’s representative to Cambodia, said there is currently no legal framework regulating surrogacy in Cambodia, even though more than 50 surrogacy brokers are advertising online for services in Cambodia, and Australian couples are traveling here seeking surrogate services.
“They need at least a legal framework to avoid malpractices,” he said. “In the absence of a legal framework, there is much more risk of having abuse and malpractice.”
Dr. Derveeuw said he had recently made recommendations on legislating surrogacy to the Ministry of Health, which is drafting a new law, and said one of the options would be to ban the practice for all except married Cambodian couples.
“A framework here in Cambodia should at least give access to Cambodian married couples to use services,” he said.
Surrogacy has spiked in popularity in Cambodia as governments around the region have implemented tighter controls.
Thailand’s parliament passed legislation banning commercial surrogacy to foreign and same-sex couples last year after an Australian couple, David and Wendy Farnell, made international headlines when they were accused of leaving a twin boy with their Thai surrogate in 2014 after discovering the infant had Down syndrome.
The decision was followed by the Nepalese government’s ban on surrogacy in September, and earlier this week India said it planned to ban foreigners, same sex couples and single parents from using surrogacy services. Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj, citing a case where a couple had left a disabled baby with a surrogate and another where a couple had taken only one twin baby, said the proposed law aimed to stop unethical practices.
U.S.-based Sensible Surrogacy is among the companies now advertising Cambodian services online. Its website tells its prospective clients that in Cambodia, “local officials are struggling to decide how to treat the practice from a legal perspective. This makes the controversial infertility treatment widely available, but also risky.”
Australians are the largest group traveling abroad for commercial surrogacy services due to complicated laws in some states that restrict who can be a parent and make it illegal to advertise for surrogates publicly.
A spokesperson for the Australian Embassy in Phnom Penh confirmed it was among those invited by the Ministry of Women’s Affairs to the upcoming meeting. Government agencies could not be reached to discuss the topic, however.
Reproductive rights expert Jenni Millbank, a professor in the University of Technology Sydney’s faculty of law, said Cambodia should move quickly to establish checks and balances to protect both Cambodians and those who would use surrogate services in the country.
“Without a formal legal process to transfer parentage my concern is that it’s all happening through back channels and with no oversight,” she said.
(Additional Reporting by Chhorn Phearun)