Cambodia is the most recent country to ban commercial surrogacy this year after the government issued a proclamation in late October.
Cambodia is the third Southeast Asian country to ban surrogacy. India and Thailand outlawed surrogacy after an international scandal caused worry about exploitation of impoverished women. Foreigners then looked to Cambodia as an alternative due to inexpensive medical expenses and limited regulation.
However, in early November of this year, the government of Cambodia issued a letter to approximately 50 surrogacy agencies and clinics in the city of Phnom Penh, which ordered the cessation of all surrogacy practices. The government also banned sperm donation, and any in-vitro fertilization procedure will require permission from the Cambodian health ministry. It remains unclear what the punishment is for violation of this new law.
"Surrogacy, one of a set of services to have a baby by assisted reproductive technology, is completely banned," the letter said.
The recent ban in Cambodia further illustrates the risks that parents run when using surrogacy abroad, and that the process is far more complicated without the proper protections in place.
The commercial surrogacy ban in Cambodia comes after a series of controversial stories about surrogates and their intended parents in foreign countries. While many people believe that surrogacy in second or third world nations may be more affordable, in reality, there are very few safety measures in place to protect the surrogate or the intended parents.
This has lead to countries banning surrogacy as a solution. Once a country bans surrogacy, the neighboring countries take on the demand, only to ban it shortly afterward. Some parents are still waiting to take possession of their baby from the surrogate. The trend of third world countries banning commercial surrogacy underscores the risk of using surrogacy abroad.
In 2012, India banned surrogacy to prevent the exploitation of impoverished women. Nepal, India’s neighbor, quickly became the default hub for surrogacy and for Indian surrogates. Nepal banned surrogacy last year.
The same trend emerged in Thailand, which emerged as a surrogacy hub after the ban in India. Two years later, Thailand banned commercial surrogacy for foreigners.
As Cambodia saw more demand from the surrogacy bans in India, Nepal and Thailand’, the same issues resurfaced: lack of regulation lead to cases of questionable ethics, which resulted in an outright ban.
Some people predicted Cambodia’s ban after the ruling in Nepal, like Preeti Bista, co-founder of My Fertility Angel Cambodia.
"I wouldn't deny it won't happen in Cambodia,” said Bista, back when Nepal’s ban had just taken effect. “The only way out is to regulate. When governments ban, people find other locations to continue. And in fact such bans make the surrogates more vulnerable in a third world country.”
Bista is right. Bans only put parties to the process at risk, particularly the surrogates and the parents who cannot bring home their children. While surrogacy may seem more affordable in developing countries, weak regulation will continue to impede the surrogacy process by failing to protect all parties. When the country eventually bans surrogacy, demand shifts to the next second or third world country.
Even worse, there are still families left waiting to take possession of their baby even after the ban is in place. In Cambodia, parents have had no choice but to abandon their surro-babies in the country.
“Scores of Australians will be forced to abandon their embryos in Cambodia, along with their dreams of a family,” said Sam Everingham, global director of the Australian consultancy Families Through Surrogacy.
"This sudden change does no favours to surrogates or children given the lack of information and lack of clarity."