Following India’s commercial surrogacy ban for foreigners, prospective parents and surrogates alike are turning to Cambodia. Over a dozen Thai and Indian clinics have set up shop there, where regulations are loose and visas are easily obtained.
Preeti Bista, co-founder of My Fertility Angel Cambodia, believes that Cambodian clinics will “undoubtedly begin hiring Indian surrogates in Cambodia they are cheaper.”
She added, “Prospective parents won’t want to pay , especially for a country where surrogacy laws are ambiguous.”
Indian surrogates are likely ready—if not willing—to make the move. When India banned surrogacy for single people and gay couples in 2012, surrogates were smuggled into Nepal to deliver the babies. Surrogacy was legal in Nepal so long as the birth mothers were not citizens, meaning the surrogate’s rights were poorly defined and not always protected.
Bista, who is based in Nepal, lamented, “there were agencies in Nepal who kept surrogates in overcrowded surrogate houses with 10 or so in a room. Some of them had their children and husbands with them. There was no work for the husbands and it was a very harassing situation for them.”
The situation worsened when an earthquake ravaged Nepal last April. Many foreign surrogates were stranded as countries such as Israel rescued their own citizens and surrogate children, leaving the birth mothers behind. The incident led Nepal to suspend commercial surrogacy the following summer.
Bista maintains that foreign surrogates will likely suffer the same deplorable conditions and lack of support in Cambodia. “The only way out is to regulate,” She told Al Jazeera. “When governments ban, people find other locations to continue. And in fact such bans make the surrogates more vulnerable in a third country.”
Mark Henaghan, a law professor based in New Zealand, agrees that cross-border surrogacy bans are not the answer. “It is unlikely that the entire industry will cease now that it has been banned,” he said. “It seems more likely that a black market or underground industry will spring up in its place, which will afford much less protection for everyone involved, especially the surrogates and the resulting children.”
Cambodia family law does not currently protect or define the rights of the surrogate, the child or the intended parents. The country also lacks vital medical services such as neonatal care units. Experts worry that commercial surrogacy bans intended to protect women from abuse will simply push surrogates into more dangerous situations.