Cambodian court affirms prison sentence for Australian woman in surrogacy scandal

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A Cambodian appeals court has upheld a prison sentence for an Australian woman convicted of operating a commercial surrogacy service in Cambodia.

Appeals Court Judge Kim Dany ruled that a lower court’s conviction of Tammy Davis-Charles was in accordance with Cambodian law — that the lower court had “already given a lenient sentence” — and therefore upheld her 18-month prison term.

The judge added that Davis-Charles could appeal the court’s ruling to the Supreme Court.

She was initially convicted last August, of sourcing clients and falsifying documents, although she denied recruiting surrogates at trial, saying her role was to provide medical care to the pregnant women.

She told the court she had “lost everything” since being arrested and wanted to be reunited with her family in Australia, which includes her twin sons.

Two Cambodian nurses who worked with Davis-Charles were convicted of the same charges and likewise sentenced to 18 months in prison.

Baby-making ‘factory’

Davis-Charles said she consulted three lawyers — all of whom assured her the business was legal — before launching her business in Cambodia. She was arrested in November 2016 just weeks after the ban went into effect.

The local women were paid $10,000 (€8,300) for each pregnancy, according to Davis-Charles. That’s a fraction of what it would cost in the United States or Australia where the price tag could run as high as $150,000.

Cambodia became a surrogacy destination place after the practice was outlawed in neighboring India, Thailand, and Nepal. Police said Davis-Charles moved her surrogacy business to Cambodia from Thailand after the latter outlawed the practice.

Cambodia defended its decision to outlaw surrogacy, saying it didn’t want the country to become a baby-making “factory.”

Davis-Charles’ clinic found more than 20 Cambodian women to act as surrogates before her business was shut down.

Since being outlawed in Cambodia the so-called “rent-a-womb” business has shifted to neighboring Laos.

The surrogacy trade has flourished in Southeast Asia in part because of cheap medical costs, a large pool of poor young women and few laws regarding surrogacy.

Critics of the practice say surrogacy leaves women with limited economic choices vulnerable to exploitation.

bik/msh (AP, AFP)