Peeling a mango inside her rickety wooden shack, Chhum Long explains how her daughter’s decision to nurture a Western couple’s baby in her womb helped her family buy two desperately needed items: a metal roof and a motorbike. Last year a broker appeared outside the 60-year-old’s house in Cambodia’s southern Takeo province and offered her daughter $ 10,000 to be a surrogate mother for a wealthy foreign couple. “My daughter immediately agreed with the offer because we are very poor,” she told AFP. “They took the baby away as soon as he was born, she did not even see his face.” An ongoing trial in Phnom Penh of Australian nurse Tammy Davis-Charles on charges of running an illegal surrogacy business has shone a spotlight on Cambodia’s role in the rented womb trade.
It is a little-regulated industry that pairs wealthy foreign couples desperate for a child — paying as much as $ 50,000 — with some of the world’s most vulnerable women. The enterprise has sparked a regulatory game of cat and mouse as poorer nations move to halt the trade only to see it resurface or appear across their borders. One-by-one countries that had been popular surrogacy destinations like India, Nepal and Thailand have banned the trade. Cambodia did the same in November. But interviews conducted by AFP suggest the industry remains, albeit in the shadows.
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Cambodia is one of Asia’s poorest countries with an average annual income of just $ 1,150. Nine months of surrogacy might bring in as much as nine years salary.