‘Rent-a-womb’ crackdown: Australian woman on trial for illegal surrogacy in Cambodia

Paying for surrogacy is illegal in Canada, but it is a thriving business in developing nations where western couples travel searching for women to carry their unborn children.

An Australian nurse is on trial after allegedly running an illegal surrogacy business in Cambodia.

Last year, the country banned commercial surrogacy as it was becoming a popular destination for would-be parents seeking women to give birth to their child. This is because the cost of surrogacy services in developing countries is much cheaper than in most Western countries.

READ MORE: Surrogacy in Canada: What you need to know

Tammy Davis-Charles, 49, was arrested in November after she launched her surrogacy business in Cambodia after consulting three local lawyers who assured her the clinic was legal. She pleaded not guilty in a hearing Monday. The judge adjourned the case until Aug. 3.

Australian Tammy Davis-Charles, right, charged with providing commercial surrogacy services in Cambodia, where it is banned.
Australian Tammy Davis-Charles, right, charged with providing commercial surrogacy services in Cambodia, where it is banned. Heng Sinith/Associated Press

The surrogates were paid $10,000 for each pregnancy, David-Charles said. Surrogates are typically reimbursed $150,000 in the U.S.

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In Canada, it is illegal to pay a surrogate, but the parents are entitled to reimburse the surrogate for any out-of-pocket reasonable expenses that are incurred as a result of the pregnancy. This can amount to anywhere from $60,000 to $80,000, according to Canadian Fertility Consulting.

Cambodia, as well as other countries like Thailand, Mexico and Nepal, have outlawed the surrogacy industry, which critics say exploits poor women.

WATCH:  BC couple tries to hire Mexican surrogate to have children

Surrogacy consultants say Laos, a country to the north of Cambodia, has since emerged as the next frontier for the “rent a womb” business following the recent bans by Cambodia, Thailand, Nepal and India, according to The Guardian.

A booming business

India has become one of the most popular destinations for international surrogacy, where the industry makes over $2 billion each year and there are very few regulations, according to the Associated Press.

The Indian government has drafted a bill to outlaw it, but it is still pending clearance in the Indian parliament.

READ MORE: India to ban single parents, gay couples from using surrogacy services

In November, the government instructed Indian embassies not to grant visas to foreigners who planned to come to India to engage a surrogate mother. The home ministry said a child born through surrogacy to foreigners would not be allowed to leave the country.

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In June, police in southern India raided an illegal fertility clinic and discovered 47 surrogate mothers, who were lured to rent their wombs for money, living in “terrible conditions,” they said.

“The women were all huddled in one large room and had access to just one bathroom,” investigating officers told Reuters.

READ MORE: Fertility lawyer debunks myths about surrogacy in Canada

“They were mostly migrants from northeastern states who had been brought here through agents and promised up to 400,000 rupees (around $6,000).”

An official from the clinic, who declined to be named, said the facility operated within the law and the women were not confined against their will.

Thailand also had been a popular destination for those wanting a baby through surrogacy, but after recent scandals involving foreign clients, the country passed laws banning commercial surrogacy.

READ MORE: Surrogacy ban gets initial approval in Thailand after scandals

For example, in 2014 an Australian couple took home a healthy baby girl born from a Thai surrogate mother but left behind her twin brother who had Down syndrome. Another case involved a Japanese man who fathered at least 16 babies via Thai surrogates.

— With files from the Associated Press and Reuters