Authorities have been unable to get in touch with four Cambodian surrogate mothers who were released from detention after agreeing to keep their babies rather than hand them over to clients in China, a Social Affairs Ministry official said.
The official, anti-human trafficking department director Prom Sakhorn, said authorities feared that the women may have given up their babies to the intended parents.
The four women were among 32 surrogate mothers arrested in Russei Keo district in June 2018, and released on bail in December that year. The government banned the surrogacy trade in 2016 as demand increased for Cambodian women to give birth to babies intended for overseas couples.
“Our minister is really concerned about it,” Sakhorn said. “We don’t think they could leave Cambodia; we are trying to find them.”
Border police have been informed and are looking out for people crossing the border with young infants, she said.
“We are very worried that they could give the children to the intended parents. That is why we keep looking for them.”
Sakhorn said the women were no longer at their registered accommodations, and their relatives told officers they did not know where they had gone.
“Those women lived in a rented room, so when they leave it is hard to find them,” she said.
Most surrogate mothers released on bail worked in garment factories, so social workers visited them on weekends to stay in touch with them and check on the health of the children, she added.
“We provide counseling to the women about how to take care of the babies, and whether something they have done is not correct,” she said.
Chou Bun Eng, deputy head of the ministry’s National Committee to Counter Human Trafficking, said the women had been missing for about two months.
“We suspect them of bringing the babies to the [intended] parents,” Bun Eng said. “If we find out, it’s going to be a problem. We don’t have evidence yet.”
The courts had attempted to contact them several times, she added.
Dozens of surrogate mothers have been arrested under anti-human trafficking laws for carrying foreign couples’ babies after reportedly being offered about $10,000 by agents. The government has been in the process of enacting formal legislation around commercial surrogacy, but the law has yet to be passed. Women’s rights campaigners have urged that the law target agents rather than criminalizing surrogate mothers.