A Cambodian court on Thursday sentenced an Australian nurse to 18 months in prison for sourcing clients for a surrogacy clinic in the impoverished kingdom, as authorities tackle 'womb for rent' businesses.
Tammy Davis-Charles, 49, has been in custody since her arrest in November last year, weeks after Cambodia abruptly banned commercial surrogacy.
Authorities moved to curb the trade in Cambodia after Thailand and India blocked foreigners paying poor local women to be surrogates, following a wave of scandals and allegations of exploitation.
Prospective parents, many from Australia, turned to Cambodian clinics.
Police said Davis-Charles moved from Thailand to take advantage of the continued demand for surrogates, charging Australian clients up to $50,000 for each request.
More than 20 Cambodian surrogates were brought into the trade and received around $10,000 each.
"Tammy Davis-Charles was an intermediary between intended parents and Cambodian surrogate mothers," Judge Sor Lina said delivering the ruling.
The Melbourne native was also convicted of falsifying documents.
"The court sentences Tammy Davis-Charles to one-and-a-half-years in jail," the judge added.
Two Cambodian colleagues were convicted of the same charges and also jailed for 18 months.
In her defence statement in July, Davis-Charles broke down in tears in front of the court appealing for mercy from the bench, saying she had already "lost everything" during her six months in custody.
Surrogacy agencies started springing up in the Southeast Asian nation in 2015.
With cheap medical costs, a large pool of poor young women and no laws excluding gay couples or single parents, Cambodia quickly absorbed much of the demand.
But in late 2016 authorities shuttered the trade and refused to recognise birth certificates for babies, leaving many foreign couples in limbo.
In April this year the government said it would allow foreign couples to return home with babies if they could prove they were conceived before the ban on commercial surrogacy.
The trade has swiftly found a new base in neighbouring Laos which has yet to criminalise commercial surrogacy.