Controversy over commercial surrogacy has flared again in Cambodia with new arrests and disclosure of the secretive release from a Cambodian prison of Australian nurse Tammy Davis-Charles.
In recent months, 43 pregnant Cambodian women carrying babies, mainly for clients in China, have been arrested.
There have been claims some subsequently gave birth in custody while chained to maternity ward beds.
Meanwhile, a senior prison official on Tuesday told AAP Davis-Charles, who was arrested in November 2016 for running a surrogacy operation that catered for Australian clients including same-sex couples, was freed on May 22.
However her release was not publicly announced and Davis-Charles has not commented to the media in Cambodia or Australia about her time in the harsh Prey Sar Prison.
Commercial surrogacy flourished in Cambodia after bans on the practice in Nepal, India and Thailand following the international outcry over the Baby Gammy case.
But surrogacy was declared illegal in Cambodia in a snap edict from the Health Minister in October 2016.
Davis-Charles, a former Melbourne nurse and mother of six, was in August last year sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment for helping falsify documents, including birth certificates, for surrogate babies.
She was in custody for nine months prior to sentencing.
the 50-year-old, who had twin boys through surrogacy in Thailand, wept when convicted.
This week, Cambodian police released photos of eleven pregnant Cambodian women, some covering their faces, being arrested on November 8 at a well-appointed house in the capital, Phnom Penh.
In June, 32 pregnant Cambodian women, allegedly carrying babies for clients in China, were also arrested in Phnom Penh.
Surrogate babies born before January 8 this year, including for Australian clients, were legally allowed to be taken out of Cambodia if they received municipal court permission.
However those removing surrogate babies born after that date face up to 14 years’ imprisonment for human trafficking.
Sam Everingham, from the Australia-based ‘Families Through Surrogacy’ organisation, calculates about 12 babies were smuggled out of Cambodia to Australia in 2016 and 2017.
However he said he did not have any estimate on how many surrogate babies had been smuggled to Australia from Cambodia this year.
Mr Everingham told AAP it was his understanding no Australians had sought Cambodian court permission to take surrogate babies out of the country because of legal delays and uncertainty.
Asked about the most recent arrests of pregnant Cambodian women in police raids, he said: “It makes them look like criminals but they are victims.
“It is the agents operating in Cambodia outside the law who should be dealt with.”
He said demand for surrogate babies had increased greatly in China as a result of the scrapping in 2015 of the nation’s ‘one-child’ population control policy.
Impregnated surrogate mothers are being taken to China from Cambodia and elsewhere, including Thailand and Laos, to await gestation and give birth.
Surrogate mothers arrested in recent months have been held at a Cambodian police hospital and charged with human trafficking after allegedly being promised $US9000 to $US10,000 ($A12,490 to $A13,880).
The family of a 24-year-old named ‘Lee’ – who was also among the women arrested in June – has said she gave birth to a baby boy while chained to a bed in a maternity ward.