Desperate couples turning to international surrogacy as a way to become parents may now face jail time thanks to changes to the law introduced in Cambodia last week.
Speaking to the Sydney Morning Herald a Department of Foreign Affairs spokesperson confirmed, “Cambodia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation has formally advised the Australian Government that the act of commercial surrogacy, or commissioning commercial surrogacy, is prohibited in Cambodia”.
Following the formal warning and clamp down, biological parents of babies born via a surrogate face hefty fines and possibly imprisonment for human trafficking.
International surrogacy in Cambodia is under threat after high profile adoption issues like that of baby Gammy in Thailand. Source: 60 Minutes.
The crackdown comes following the highly publicised failed surrogacy of baby Gammy, which involved an Australian couple refusing to take their son (who was born with a twin sister in 2013 via a Thai surrogate) home due to him being born with Down Syndrome.
The event also highlighted issues with the international screening process, with the father of the twin babies found to be a convicted pedophile.
Baby Gammy's parents David Farnell and Wendy Li. Source: 60 Minutes.
Following a number of high profile cases such as Gammy's, international surrogacy was made illegal in Thailand, Nepal and India, but many IVF doctors, lawyers and agencies working with international couples have simply moved to Cambodia's capital, Phnom Penh, to continue operating.
And while the issue has been largely ignored until recently, the growing number of agencies advertising their services has forced Cambodian officials to act.
One fertility agency boasts a large pool of Cambodian and Thai surrogate mothers who, according to its site, are "ready to help childless parents in order to make their dream of parenthood come true".
Another tries to allay legal fears, saying on its website that surrogacy is not an issue that falls under the criminal code, promising prospective parents and their surrogate will be safe.
But according to Sam Everingham, founder and director of the Australian surrogacy group Families Through Surrogacy, laws such as those in Cambodia need to be passed not just to ensure the rights of the unborn child and surrogate, but to also provide clarity for adoptive parents.
"Having said that the practical ability to police such laws in developing countries is doubtful," Everingham told Fairfax, continuing, "In Nepal we saw Australian authorities increasingly stepping in to conduct their own investigations where surrogate identification documents, for example, were inadequate."
According to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade's smartraveller.gov.au website, Australians are advised to not engage in international surrogacy in Cambodia.
"We strongly caution Australians to consider all legal and other risks involved in pursuing international surrogacy," the website says.
"The absence of rules and regulations governing surrogacy in some countries should not be seen as condoning commercial surrogacy ... the risks of entering into such arrangements in less regulated markets are high."
It is estimated that around 250 Australian couples use international surrogacy services each year.