By Jared Ferrie
PHNOM PENH, Dec 6 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Cambodia has released 32 women who were detained while pregnant on charges of human trafficking for acting as surrogate mothers for Chinese couples, a government official said on Thursday.
The women, who were detained in July, were freed on bail this week after promising to raise the children themselves, said Chou Bun Eng, secretary of state for the Ministry of Interior.
"We requested (the court) to release them on probation under watch," she said via the messaging app Telegram.
Police have said each woman was promised $10,000 for carrying a baby for Chinese clients. "We do not know yet who are the people who wanted the babies," said Chou Bun Eng, adding the mothers became attached to the infants during their pregnancies and wanted to keep them.
"All have a commitment, because of love for the child developed in their wombs," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The women were discovered during police raids at two apartments in the capital, Phnom Penh, in June. They were charged in July with cross border human trafficking.
Five other Cambodians and one a Chinese national were also charged for involvement in the surrogacy ring, police said.
Members of the Agape International Missions (AIM), a Christian anti-human trafficking charity, accompanied police on the raid, AIM said in a July statement.
The women were initially provided accommodation by AIM and given meals, medical care and counseling, the group said.
AIM said it continued to provide assistance after the women were arrested and transferred to a police hospital.
"We believe that with the necessary equipping and support these 32 families will become models of loving Christian families positively impacting the communities in which they live," the group said in the statement.
Cambodia is 97 percent Buddhist, with Christians accounting for less than 1 percent of the population.
An AIM staff member said the charity continues to provide assistance to the women, but declined to comment further.
Cambodia was a popular international destination for couples looking to have babies through commercial surrogacy but the practice was made illegal in 2016.
Since then, Cambodia has been cracking down on surrogacy.
In 2017, an Australian nurse and two Cambodian assistants were found guilty of running an illegal commercial surrogacy clinic. She was released earlier this year, according to local media reports.
Neighbouring Thailand has also banned surrogacy and much of the business has shifted to Laos, where dozens of fertility clinics have appeared during the past few years.
(Reporting by Jared Ferrie @jaredferrie; Editing by Belinda Goldsmith Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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