A woman in eastern Cambodia has sold her kidney to her brother-in-law in return for a parcel of land, triggering a probe by the police over the illegal transaction and drawing criticism from a human rights group.
Twenty-year-old Sok Sopheak sold her organ to save her nephew, who is suffering from a kidney ailment, according to her father Sok Chea.
The 50-year-old Sok Chea from Kampong Cham province said he received a two-hectare (five-acre) rubber plantation plot after Sok Sopheak sold the kidney to her brother-in-law, named Pharun.
The organ was for Pharun’s son, the father said, vowing that Sok Sopheak had consented to the sale with the intention of saving the boy.
“I am not poor, but my daughter had compassion for her brother-in-law, and in return, they gave us two hectares of rubber plantation land for which we have received an offer now for more than U.S. $10,000," Sok Chea said on Oct. 24.
Other residents from Chipeang in Ponhea Krek district, where the family lives, said following the success of the first kidney transplant in India, Pharun bought another kidney from a woman farmer living in the same village.
Pharun could not be reached for comment as he and his family were in India, according to neighbors.
Prak Bun Non, police inspector of Ponhea Krek district, declared the kidney sale illegal but said he would conduct an investigation and bring the case to the local court’s attention.
“Yes, that is illegal,” Prak Bun Non said. “If there is such a person trafficking in human organs, I will investigate the case for the court.”
Neang Savath, an official with Cambodia-based human rights group ADHOC, said consent did not make an organ sale legal.
“The parents’ decision to sell their child’s kidney, even with the consent of the child, is still illegal because the rights of an individual cannot be decided by his or her parents,” Neang Savath said.
He said it was the first time he had heard reports of a kidney sale in Kompong Cham.
Sok Sopheak said she has been healthy since the operation to remove her kidney at a hospital in India last month.
“I’m alright. These days when they do that kind of operation, it’s much faster. In the past, they didn’t have much experience. It would have taken me six months to recover. Now, it takes only a month to recover,” she said.
Sok Sopheak’s uncle, surnamed Ra, questioned the kidney sale.
“Being a person of our caliber, why would she do such a thing?” he wondered.
“However, I could do nothing. It’s her life. Her parents live with her and didn’t say a word. I am only her uncle. If I had known from the very start, I could have talked her out of doing it,” Ra said.
Cambodia is notorious for human trafficking, including of children, but organ sales are not common.
According to the 2010 edition of the US State Department's annual Trafficking in Persons report, Cambodian children are commonly trafficked to neighboring countries to beg, sell items in the street, and shine shoes.
"Parents sometimes sell their children into conditions of forced labor, including involuntary domestic servitude," the report said.
The State Department said the while the Cambodian government has made efforts to comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, "impunity, corruption, and related rent-seeking behavior continue to impede progress in combating trafficking in persons."
Reported by Or Phearith for RFA’s Khmer service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.