Hong Kong has been a popular birth centre for thousands of mainland women, but loopholes are closing in cross-border deliveries after a so-called birth agent was jailed this month.
A 29-year-old woman, who has allegedly admitted to assisting Chinese women enter Hong Kong hospitals, was jailed for 10 months on February 13.
In a first court prosecution of its kind, Xu Li was accused of being a “birth agent”. She pleaded guilty to one count of breaching her conditions of stay, which bars her from carrying out business activities, and another offence of making a false representation to an immigration officer, reports AFP.
“We welcome the ruling,” campaigner Christine Chan told AFP. Chan is the spokeswoman of a popular Facebook campaign set up to protest against mainland women giving birth in Hong Kong.
“The judge sent a very strong message that agents who encourage pregnant mainland women to wait until the last minute and then force their way into Hong Kong emergency wards are endangering others’ lives.
“We’re not sure whether this sentence will deter others, so we urge the authorities to remain vigilant in their enforcement,” Chan said.
The agents work similarly to travel agents, who facilitate all travel arrangements for women wishing to give birth in Hong Kong.
NBC reports of one such agent charging his clients up to 20,000 yuan (HK$24,600) to have the privilege. Most of his customers are from the mainland’s wealthiest regions like Guangdong, Zhejiang, Beijing and Shanghai.
It is not surprising that the Hong Kong hospital system has struggled to contain the influx of Mainland women. Of the 88,000 births in Hong Kong in 2010, roughly 45 per cent were delivered by mainland Chinese women, according to Hong Kong’s government.
Many chose to give birth in the semi-autonomous city because it guarantees automatic citizenship to those born on the island. This means better education opportunities, better health care and greater freedoms, when compared to communist China.
Some maternity wards are reported to be fully booked until September and this has angered local Hong Kong women who struggle to get admitted.
Under popular pressure, the Health Authority in Hong Kong has instituted quotas for non-local residents. Currently, only 3,400 births by non-local women are permitted at public hospitals this year – down from 10,000 in 2011. Private hospitals are allowed 31,000 births by non-local women.