“They paid off their debts,” Ms. Hun Daneth said. “Their lives could start like new.”
The scout was connected to an agency managed locally by a Chinese man and his Cambodian wife. Her sister ran luxury villas where the surrogates stayed.
Eight surrogates who spoke to The New York Times described chandeliers, air conditioning and flush toilets in the villas, none of which they enjoyed at home. Their meals were plentiful. The women dreamed about the money they would earn. They also thrilled at the notion that they were providing a desperately needed service.
“I was helping give someone a baby,” Ms. Hun Daneth said. “I wanted to give that joy.”
Mr. Xu, a prosperous businessman from the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen, was matched with Ms. Hun Daneth. The one thing he was missing, he told friends who spoke to The Times, was a son to continue the family line.
Most of the Chinese babies carried by Cambodian surrogates are boys. Sex selection is banned in China, but not in Cambodia. Commercial surrogacy is not openly practiced in China, despite official concern about the country’s plummeting birthrate after decades of a brutally enforced one-child policy.
In Cambodian court testimony, Mr. Xu said his wife could not bear a child. But Mr. Xu’s friends, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of antagonizing the Cambodian authorities, said that his situation was more complicated: He had no wife and was open about being gay. Ms. Hun Daneth said Mr. Xu told her about his sexuality. L.G.B.T.Q. couples cannot adopt in China, and gay or single individuals are precluded from surrogacy in most countries where that practice is legal.
Perfect Fertility Center, or P.F.C., a surrogacy agency registered in the British Virgin Islands, showed rare sympathy for L.G.B.T.Q. intended parents, promising babies via Cambodia, Mexico and the United States. The company’s website is illustrated with photos of same-sex couples cradling babies.
P.F.C. was founded by Tony Yu, who turned to Cambodian surrogates for his own children. Mr. Yu, who is openly gay, said Cambodian lawyers assured him that his agency was legal.