Government Publicly Announces Exit Strategy for Surrogate Babies

Foreign parents of babies born to surrogate mothers in Cambodia can now legally apply to take their children out of the country after the government on Tuesday publicly announced details of its long-awaited departure guidelines.

A directive issued by the Council of Ministers laid out steps to be followed by the parents, saying the departures were allowed “for the sake of the babies,” but must comply with Cambodian law. Details on how to submit applications under the guidelines, however, were still to come.

Surrogacy was banned in Cambodia in October, leaving dozens of foreigners stranded in legal limbo. As the months dragged on without resolution, some Cambodian surrogate mothers were reportedly crossing the border to Thailand to give birth, and some foreign parents resorted to spiriting their babies home through Vietnam.

On Tuesday, Chou Bun Eng, secretary of state with the Interior Ministry and vice chair of the national committee to combat human trafficking, said the exit strategy came into effect on March 28, the date it was signed by Sou Phirin, a secretary of state at the Council of Ministers.

Prime Minister Hun Sen had given his approval on March 24.

The directive says the guidelines are aimed at protecting the rights of surrogate babies and preventing Cambodia from becoming a “destination for commercial surrogacy.”

It set out several points, including:

• In the case of a married Cambodian surrogate mother, her husband is considered to be the baby’s father, and the biological father will need to go to court to prove his paternity with a DNA test.

• Where the surrogate is unmarried, the biological father will need to go to court to claim the right to take care of the baby, and the surrogate mother must agree to the father’s request.

• Surrogacy contracts cannot be used, as the practice is illegal and prosecutions of brokers are ongoing.

• The departure strategy will only be valid for nine months and 10 days from the day it was signed and will only cover current pregnancies and babies already born.

The directive also said inspections of clinics that have the technology to carry out surrogate procedures would be undertaken, although it did not go into details.

It also suggested a draft law on “Management of Surrogacy” needed to be hastened, saying “there is a need for pushing up the preparation and approval.”

Women’s Affairs Ministry spokesman Phon Puthborey has said the complete surrogacy law, which the ministry worked on with other ministries, would likely be finished at the end of the year.

Details of how parents should submit applications to start the process were not provided, but Ms. Bun Eng said the ministries would meet next week to discuss “a smooth procedure that everyone agrees on.”

Ms. Bun Eng said seven applications from parents from the U.S., Australia and Canada had already been received, but they were asked to wait for the new guidelines.

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