The international market for surrogacy is proving to be very resilient in the face of legal and social disruption. Now that India, Nepal and Thailand have banned international clients from using local surrogates, clinics and brokers are shifting their business to Cambodia.
According to the Sydney Morning Herald, at least 14 clinics have opened up in Phnom Penh since Thailand changed its policy after some high-profile scandals. Most of them appear to be Thai clinics, but Indian clinics are also relocating. The surrogate mothers tend to be Thai as well, since surrogacy is frowned upon in Cambodia.
Clients who travel to Cambodia to get a baby are taking a big risk. The business has sprung up overnight, as Cambodia’s first IVF baby was born in 2014 (according to the Fertility Clinic of Cambodia). No laws govern surrogacy there and the legal system is “murky and corrupt”. If the authorities do step in, they could treat surrogacy as human trafficking. The future of the clients, the surrogate mothers and the babies could be at risk.
"There is a clear risk of the Cambodian government cracking down, as occurred in Thailand and Nepal, potentially due to lobbying by anti-surrogacy activists or foreign governments," said Sam Everingham, of Families Through Surrogacy. “It’s a disaster waiting to happen.”
“To advertise for surrogates in Cambodian media is not possible as the culture has no understanding of surrogacy,” Mr Everingham said. Instead, brokers find women through word of mouth or recrutit them from poorer rural areas.
However, clinics are will to take a chance, as costs are much lower in Phnom Penh. Daniel Carrington, an Australian-based case manager for IP Conceptions, an American broker which operates in Mexico where surrogacy is legal, told the SMH: "The waters will be tested in Cambodia when the first babies are born next year, when parents will be looking to exit the country. Somebody has to be the icebreaker."
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