An Australian nurse and surrogacy dealer Tammy Davis-Charles was sent back to Prey Sar, one of the country’s most overcrowded prisons, after her court trial was delayed.
The authorities accuse the Melbourne mother of six of falsifying documents, including birth certificates, to allow surrogacy cases to pass through Cambodia’s opaque legal system and the Australian embassy. The industry moved to Cambodia after the Thai junta clamped down on the trade after taking power in May 2014.
Cambodian women were paid about US$10,000 to carry children. Cambodian police said that Davis-Charles was charging her clients US$50,000 to organise surrogacies. Developing countries are popular for surrogacy because costs are lower than in the US and Australia, where surrogate services cost around US$150,000.
Her lawyer, Cheang Sophorn, told Fairfax Media the decision was a violation of the 49-year-old’s rights because she had already spent six months in jail. He said the main charge she faced related to arranging surrogacies, which only carried a six-month sentence.
“I am upset with the judge who postponed the hearing,” Sophorn said. “They have not been given another hearing date.”
Prosecutors asked for a delay because four surrogate mothers had failed to attend court. Sophorn argued that the court had already received their testimonies through court documents.
The defendant arrived in handcuffs in an orange prison uniform with “Tammy” sewn on the back.
She reportedly ignored Australian government warnings that commercial surrogacy was illegal in Cambodia, as her firm, Fertility Solutions PGD, signed at least 25 surrogacy agreements, mostly with Australians.
The police arrested her with two Cambodians in October in a crackdown on more than 50 surrogacy clinics and agents in Phnom Penh.
Surrogate mothers fled their homes, fearing arrest and lost access to medical care. The authorities refused to allow newborns to leave if they had a foreign passport, leaving dozens of babies and families in limbo.
The authorities demanded the Australian biological parents come forward but few did.
In April, Prime Minister Hun Sen approved a strategy to allow the babies to leave Cambodia if biological parents could prove a DNA link to the infants and demonstrate that they would be competent parents.
Surrogate mothers also had to testify they were willingly giving up the children. Under Cambodian law the birth mother is given custody of a child.
Cambodia’s poverty provided plenty of potential surrogate mothers. Picture credit: Flickr