The Phnom Penh’s Municipal Court of Appeal on January 10 heard the case of a Chinese man who was sentenced to 15 years in prison in 2017 for hiring a Cambodian woman to act as a surrogate mother.
Surrogacy is legal in some countries – but not in Cambodia, where it was outlawed in 2016. Those involved in the practice can be charged under the Kingdom’s human trafficking laws and face a prison sentence of up to 20 years.
The Chinese national was identified by the court as Xu Wenjun, 35. He told Presiding Judge Sin Visal that he was married to a woman in China but they divorced after many years of marriage with no children.
Xu said that before coming to Cambodia in 2017, he contacted one company in China to help him find a woman willing to get pregnant and bear a child for him. The company told him that the countries from which he could choose a surrogate mother were Thailand, Hong Kong, Russia, Malaysia and Cambodia, with prices ranging from $90,000 to $100,000.
“I did not choose Cambodia myself. The company asked me to go with Cambodia and they required me to pay only $50,000. The doctor brought my semen to Cambodia and took a picture of a woman [to show me for approval] who they would inseminate with my sperm,” he said.
Xu said he travelled from China to Cambodia to see the woman when she had almost reached her delivery date and she then gave birth to a son. He returned to China and only came back to Cambodia when his son was aged one year in 2018 in order to process the documents and take the boy back to China with him.
He added that when he came to Cambodia, he had relied on the advice of an NGO working on child protection issues for counselling, but the NGO’s staff took him to the anti-trafficking police who then arrested him while releasing the Cambodian surrogate mother.
He said he requested that doctors in Cambodia and Vietnam perform a DNA test on him and the boy and the results showed that he was the father.
According to court documents, Xu was sentenced to 15 years in prison by the lower court on a charge of human trafficking under Article 16 of the Law on the Suppression of Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation.
“I intended to take the child to China and raise him because he is my biological son. I ask the court to free me,” he told the judge on January 10.
Appeals Court prosecutor Chum Sen Sothea requested that the trial chambers summon the woman to testify as a witness in this case. He said the woman had so far not been questioned at any point.
Xu’s attorney May Vannady stated to the court that his client did not commit any human trafficking crime because the Chinese man has the same DNA as the child and there would be no sensible reason for the father to sell his son because he is a wealthy man who owns a factory in China.
“If he [Xu] intended to commit a crime, he would not have asked a [child protection] organisation for advice or let it lead the authorities to arrest him. I request that the court release my client,” he said.
Judge Visal said the verdict in Xu’s case was scheduled to be delivered on January 24.