Cambodia wants to put an end to surrogacy


The story of “baby Gammy” made international headlines in August 2014 after his intended parents – from Australia – took his twin sister back to their country and reportedly abandoned Gammy with his 21-year-old surrogate mother because he had Down’s syndrome.

“She told us that if we tried to take the boy she would call the police and would keep both babies,” the father, David Farnell, told a Thai TV station in response to the accusations that he had abandoned the baby.

Concern over surrogacy, an assisted reproductive technique whereby a woman agrees to carry another person’s child, was heightened when it was discovered, during the same period, that a Japanese man had fathered 16 babies to different Thai mothers, in what came to be known as the “baby factory” scandal.

These widely covered stories led Thailand to proscribe surrogacy for all foreigners at the beginning of 2015. Nepal did the same in August of that year, and India followed suit in August 2016. Since then, Cambodia, where medical costs are relatively low and there are no laws excluding single or homosexual parents, has emerged as the “new frontier” for international surrogacy, a growing industry that the country’s Health Ministry is trying to stop in its tracks, sooner rather than later.

Although Cambodia has not yet passed official legislation to ban surrogacy, at the beginning of November, the Health Ministry issued a decree as a provisional measure designed to put an end to services of this kind. Article 12 of the ministerial order stipulates that all “surrogacy services combined with assisted reproduction technology are strictly prohibited”, but does not set out the penalties for potential offenders. Nor does the decree specify what will happen to the mothers who are in the middle of a surrogate pregnancy.

“It is a preventative measure. No one knows how the Ministry will enforce it, but it sends out a clear message to clinics and society in general that surrogacy is not a good thing,” Rodrigo Montero, an advisor from the German development cooperation agency, GIZ, to the Minister of Women’s Affairs, told Equal Times.

“The number of cases has grown over the last year. The law [to prohibit surrogacy] will take another two years to come. If that amount of time is allowed to go by, the industry will already have established itself in the country,” warns the gender activist.

With thousands of people across the world willing to spend a fortune to be able to become mothers and/or fathers, surrogacy has become a lucrative business in developing countries. Cambodian surrogate mothers usually receive around €9,000 for a process that could cost between €27,000 and €40,000 in the Global North.

"South-east Asia is popular because the costs are significantly lower than in Western countries like Greece, Canada or the United States,” Sam Everingham, director of the Australia-based company Families Through Surrogacy, tells Equal Times.

The service providers working exclusively with Cambodia are now looking for alternative destinations. The options include sending the embryos to neighbouring countries such as Laos or Malaysia, for future gestation or as an “emergency measure” to continue the pregnancy.

“I understand that the sudden changes in Cambodia may have left some clients in the lurch,” explains Bill Houghton, founder of the US-based company Sensible Surrogacy.

At least two renown clinics opened in Vientiane, the capital of Laos, after the legislative changes in Thailand. The health centres wishing to continue with this type of service in Cambodia will now have to request special authorisation from the Ministry.


This article has been translated from Spanish.