The women at the court (Source: anninhthudo.vn)

Hanoi (VNA) - A Cambodian court has charged 33 surrogate mothers paid to deliver babies for Chinese couples with cross border human trafficking, an official said.

According to Ly Sophana, a spokesman for the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, the women were charged with human trafficking and a judge "placed 32 surrogate mothers in jail" pending further investigation and trial.

The remaining woman did not appear in the court on July 6. These women face up to 20 years in jail, according to the human trafficking law.

The women, many of whom are pregnant, were discovered last month during a raid by Cambodian authorities on an illegal surrogacy business in Phnom Penh.

Five people, including a Chinese national, were arrested during the raid and have already been charged with human trafficking.

China's easing of its one-child policy two years ago has seen demand spike for fertility clinics. But surrogacy is illegal in China, forcing those who can afford it to look for potential options abroad.

Southeast Asia was long a popular international surrogacy destination, with cheap medical costs, a large pool of poor young women and no laws excluding gay couples or single parents.

But in recent years, regional countries have cracked down on the trade, following a series of scandals and criticism that the business exploited poor women.

Cambodian authorities banned the practice in 2016 after prospective parents turned to the impoverished country in the wake of a ban in neighbouring Thailand the previous year.-VNA