Mothers-to-be wade into health seminar
Pregnant mainlanders gatecrashed a Polytechnic University event yesterday, and a male supporter stormed the stage, in a protest at their treatment by the government.
The 20 protesters - women from the Mainland-Hong Kong Family Rights Association married to Hong Kong men, and their supporters - were protesting at a government cap on the number of non-local mothers who can give birth in the city.
What had started as a peaceful rally became more agitated when they gatecrashed the health seminar at the Chiang Chen Studio Theatre after waiting outside for more than 90 minutes to petition health minister Dr York Chow Yat-ngok, who was officiating at the opening of the event.
Security guards tried to push the protesters back but about six got in. They displayed banners and chanted 'Return my right to give birth' and 'Be quick, York Chow' as the secretary for food and health was addressing the 150-strong audience.
The proceedings continued and Chow sat down while the noisy protesters were kept at the back of the theatre.
But another demonstrator slipped in through a side door, rushed on to the stage and handed a petition to Chow. He remained composed as he accepted it. The protesters then left.
After the ceremony, Chow left via the back door to avoid the protesters waiting outside the main entrance.
A protest organiser, Tsang Koon-wing, said: 'We only wanted to hand in a petition to Dr Chow. But he chose to avoid us and took the back door. It is shameful. It is not what we expect from a senior government official.'
In a statement later, Chow expressed deep regret that the protest had disrupted the proceedings.
'Any people expressing their views should be considerate and should not interfere with other people's rights, disrupt public order or infringe on public or private property rights,' he said.
Chow said the government policy was to 'ensure that local pregnant women have priority in using [obstetric] services'.
He said health bureau staff had met the association before to hear its views.
In a protest by the association in June, three pregnant women knelt down and blocked the path of Chow's car as he was leaving Commercial Radio after an interview.
In April, activists from the association stormed a ceremony in Tsuen Wan where Chow was officiating.
The association says government policy is unfair and that those with Hong Kong husbands should not be treated as 'non-locals'.
The government this year announced that it would cap the number of births to non-local mothers at 34,400 in 2012 - about 31,000 at private hospitals and 3,400 at public hospitals.
The association says this is insufficient to cope with demand. Tsang said his association had documented at least 50 mainland wives of Hong Kong men, all due to give birth over the next half year, who had failed to secure a hospital bed.
'The last thing we want to see is that they rush to the accident and emergency units at the last minute. But there is no other way because of the government quota system,' said Tsang.
A spokeswoman for the event organisers said they had not received any complaints about the disruption.