By Sonia Hickey and Ugur Nedim
Cambodian officials have appealed for an estimated 70 Australian biological parents to come forward to identify themselves and prove they are the real parents of babies carried by surrogate mothers.
This comes in the wake of claims by the Cambodian Government that the Australian Embassy has granted passports to a number of babies born to surrogate mothers after being presented with falsified documents.
Australian Tammy Davis-Charles, a 49-year old nurse from Melbourne, is at the centre of an international investigation into commercial child surrogacy in Cambodia. She has been arrested and is facing up to two years’ in prison for allegedly running a surrogacy business and falsifying documents, weeks after the country implemented a ban on commercial surrogacy.
Cambodian Anti-Human Trafficking investigators have detained Ms Davis-Charles for questioning over a business she founded called Fertility Solutions, which they say has preyed on the desperation of foreign couples who want children, and poverty stricken Cambodians who can earn a fortune by local standards for carrying a surrogate child.
It is alleged that 18 of the 25 Cambodian women Ms Davis-Charles has recruited are currently pregnant, and that foreigners have paid her up to $US 50,000 per child.
Child surrogacy became big business in Cambodia 18 months ago, after laws were introduced in Sri Lanka, India and Thailand effectively shutting the industry down.
The country recently implemented its own ban due to concerns over child abuse, exploitation and trafficking.
An uncertain future
There are many Australian couples waiting for children, and complicating matters for the Cambodian Government and anti-human trafficking police is that the Australian Government has refused to co-operate with their investigations.
The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs has a policy of not intervening in the overseas surrogacy arrangements of Australians, even if children are likely to be used and exploited in the process.
Cambodian officials say the nation’s ban on commercial surrogacy means that Australians who have paid for babies that are already born or being carried by surrogates will face tough administrative hurdles in order to take the children out of the country. Amongst other verification processes, parents will have to undergo supervised DNA and written tests.
Hundreds of surrogacy arrangements with other foreigners are also in doubt – and the biggest losers will be the Cambodian women who are relying on money and medical assistance as their pregnancies reach full term, and of course the abandoned or unwanted babies.
Child abuse and neglect
That case involved a WA couple who left their Down’s syndrome son with his surrogate mother in Thailand, and brought his healthy twin sister back to Australia. The Australian father was found to have had a history of child sexual offences. The result was that one mentally ill child was left with a mother who could not take care of him and the other came to live with a child sex offender.
In the wake of that case, the Thai Government implemented strict arrangements in respect of more than 200 Australian couples awaiting surrogate children born in Thailand.
The Australian Government’s Smart Traveller website warns that the act of commercial surrogacy, or commissioning of commercial surrogacy, is illegal in Cambodia, with penalties including imprisonment and fines.
Commercial surrogacy is also illegal in Australia.