Cambodian women identified as surrogate mothers hired by a jailed Australian nurse have been summoned to testify against their employer in court, but have failed to turn up partly out of fear of what might happen, according to a judge.
Ros Piseth, an investigating judge at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, said on Tuesday the women had been summoned for questioning in an ongoing investigation into surrogacy broker Tammy Davis-Charles, who was charged in November for her role in connecting surrogate mothers with foreign parents.
Mr. Piseth said he had issued warrants inviting some of the women “to join the proceedings,” but that they had failed to appear for questioning, while others had yet to be summoned.
“Firstly, they are afraid to show up, and secondly, they are living in remote provinces,” he said.
Chou Bun Eng, secretary of state of the Interior Ministry and vice chair of the national committee for countertrafficking, said the identities of the 12 women were discovered on Ms. Davis-Charles’ computer, but that officials were continuing to investigate to determine if there were more.
“Before, she said there are 18, and now she said there are 12. We don’t know which one is a lie,” she said.
Arrested just weeks after the government banned commercial surrogate pregnancies in the country, Ms. Davis-Charles, 49, was charged with fraudulently requesting documents and acting as an intermediary between adoptive parents and a pregnant woman, and was sent to Prey Sar prison to await trial.
Cambodian nationals Penh Rithy, 28, a Commerce Ministry officer, and Samrithchan Chariya, 35, a nurse, were also charged.
Officials were quick to reassure intending parents they would be allowed to take the children home if they stepped forward and took responsibility for them, but some have since become stuck in the country, unable to leave with their newborn babies.
Ms. Bun Eng said parents with surrogate babies were forbidden from leaving the country with their newborns until a newly drafted exit strategy was approved.
“We have already prepared it, but we need to have it checked by the committee in order to have it for the implementation,” she said.
Stephen Page, an Australian lawyer who specializes in surrogacy, said he was “aware that there are Australians who have had children born in Cambodia and haven’t left Cambodia. I’m aware that there are Australians who have had pregnant surrogates in Cambodia.”
Sam Everingham, director of Australia-based advocacy group Families Through Surrogacy, said he knew of four Australians who had been unable to leave the country, including a same-sex couple who had arrived for the birth of their child in November.
Jay Raman, a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy, said officials there were “assisting a small number of U.S. citizens who conceived children through surrogates.”