Thirty-two Cambodian women who were charged with human trafficking for serving as surrogate mothers have been provisionally released from detention after agreeing to keep the babies rather than giving them up as originally planned, officials said Wednesday.
Bun Samkhan, a spokeswoman for the National Committee for Counter-Trafficking, said the women, who were charged in July with violating surrogacy and human trafficking laws, were released on bail in three groups, the last 17 on Wednesday.
A senior police officer who works at the same agency, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk publicly, said the women were released on humanitarian grounds.
He said they had committed crimes but their babies are innocent, and for that reason, the committee requested that the court free them. They had been held at a police hospital.
Acting as an intermediary between an adoptive parent and a pregnant woman carries a penalty of one to six months in prison. The human trafficking offence is punishable by seven to 15 years' imprisonment.
Cambodian women who have served as surrogates have said they were offered as much as USD10,000. The average annual household income in Cambodia is about USD1,490, according to the International Monetary Fund. It was not known how much the women in this group were paid.
After Cambodia's crackdown, the trade shifted to neighbouring Laos.
In July last year, a Cambodian court sentenced an Australian woman and two Cambodian associates to 1 1/2 years in prison for providing commercial surrogacy services. The Australian woman was quietly freed earlier this year.
(With inputs from agencies.)