Agent for mainland mothers is jailed
A fourth mainland birth agent has been convicted for helping pregnant women cross the border without a hospital booking.
Immigration chiefs say a crackdown on cross-border births is bringing 'stability', though the number of birth agencies remains a worry.
The number of non-local women giving birth in emergency wards at public hospitals has fallen to its lowest level in months, easing concerns that mainland women are rushing to hospital at the last moment to ensure they give birth in the city.
Birth agent Wu Yinyan was sentenced to 10 months in prison yesterday after admitting five counts of breaching her conditions of stay.
Sha Tin Court heard that Wu, 30, brought five mainland women to Hong Kong for medical checks and to give birth between October and February.
One of the women was not registered with any hospital in the city and gave birth at a public hospital emergency ward in February.
Initially, she earned 200 yuan (HK$246) from an agency for each job, and she began receiving a 2,000 yuan monthly salary in December.
It was not clear how much the expectant mothers paid the agency. She was intercepted at the Lok Ma Chau border checkpoint last week.
'We have been trying our best to tackle [the problem of] mainland agents, and now we observe the situation is becoming more stable,' Chief Immigration Officer Fung Tai-kwong said.
The Immigration Department said in March it was tracking 82 people suspected of bringing pregnant mainlanders to give birth in the city. But the department has yet to see a large reduction in the number of mainland agencies offering birth services in Hong Kong, despite chief executive-elect Leung Chun-ying's vow last month to set a quota of 'zero' births by mainland women not married to Hongkongers in the city's hospitals next year.
The policy has since been endorsed by the outgoing government for both public and private hospitals.
One method used by mainland women unable to book a hospital bed, but eager for their child to become a Hong Kong resident, is to approach an emergency ward at the last possible moment of pregnancy.
The practice, condemned by health professionals as dangerous for both mother and child, increased after the government announced in April last year that public hospitals would not accept bookings from pregnant mainland women.
It peaked in October, when 224 non-local women gave birth in emergency wards. The monthly figure before the announcement had been under 100.
But the numbers reached their lowest level since the booking rules were announced in February, at 118, before increasing slightly to 134 in March.
The Hospitals Authority announced last month that the fee for emergency deliveries for non-local women would increase to HK$90,000 from the current HK$48,000 from next Saturday.
Just 3,400 mainland women are allowed to give birth at public hospitals this year, with 31,000 births allowed at private hospitals.
The issue has prompted protests and stirred ill-feeling between Hongkongers and mainlanders.