By Bree Bailey
This June, 32 pregnant Cambodian moms were arrested on the grounds of trafficking their unborn children. These women were acting as surrogate mothers for Chinese families and planned to sell their babies after giving birth.
Women declared that they had been offered up to $10,000 for this service while the average annual income in Cambodia is a mere $1,490. Foreign couples often seek surrogates in developing countries because the service is much cheaper than in developed nations. In the U.S. or Australia it is not uncommon for surrogate mothers to charge around $150,000.
In 2016, surrogacy was outlawed in Cambodia and the National Committee for Counter Trafficking (NCCT) has been working to ensure the sale of children is prevented.
Due to the fact that surrogacy is now viewed as human trafficking in Cambodia, any involvement in the process results in jail time.
These 32 women were released from a police hospital this week after promising to raise the children on their own and not sell them to other families. If they do not keep this agreement they will face up to 15 years in prison.
The official involved stated that the NCCT asked for these women to be released for the sake of their innocent babies although the mothers committed a crime. It is not clear whether the mothers are genetically tied to these children or simply carrying another couple's fertilized embryo. This does not matter to Cambodia's Secretary of State for the Interior Ministry, Chou Bun Eng.
"The woman takes care of them and feeds them for more than nine months before the embryo becomes human, so how can you give the children to someone else?" Chou said.
After China began to release their one-child rule the demand for surrogate mothers had increased. Sadly, a string of scandals resulted. One example was a baby with Down's syndrome who was abandoned by the Australian couple who paid a Thai mother to carry him.
Cambodia is not alone in this movement against commercial surrogacy. India, New Zealand, Canada, Denmark and the UK have taken the same steps in fighting this trade. However, in other nations where it is not regulated, this is still a flourishing industry.
Human trafficking is a huge issue today that can be disguised in many forms. There are so many layers that it can be difficult to determine what qualifies as immoral. As advocates for justice it is important to look deeper into issues than what may appear on the surface. The cycle of poverty and manipulation continuously feed this industry and it is not uncommon for the victims to be the ones punished. Please pray for the people around the world who are trapped in any form of human trafficking and pray for wisdom as organizations decide who to prosecute in various situations.