Agent for births in HK jailed for 10 months
Diana Lee, Tanna Chong and Dennis Chong
The first mainland agent to be convicted of helping expectant mainlanders give birth in Hong Kong was jailed for 10 months yesterday.
In Sha Tin Court, Xu Li, 29, was given a two-month sentence for breach of condition of stay, and eight months for making a false representation to an immigration officer.
The Immigration Department expects to prosecute more suspects, having identified 40 mainland agents and 20 local intermediaries in a drive to counter cross-border deliveries without prior medical bookings.
Principal Magistrate Andrew Ma Hon-cheung said such agents abetted mainland mothers-to-be in giving birth in the city.
'Most of them have limited knowledge about maternity services in Hong Kong,' Ma said. 'Without the assistance and abetting by agents, it's believed that many mainlanders would not take the risk and give birth in Hong Kong without an appointment.'
Xu, a former babysitter from Hubei, helped her mainland clients book pre-natal check-ups, delivery services and hostels in Hong Kong, the court heard earlier.
Ma said he took into account that Xu had operated alone, had pleaded guilty and was the first agent to be prosecuted. The maximum penalty for a breach of condition of stay is a HK$50,000 fine and two years' jail, while that for making a false representation to an immigration officer is a HK$150,000 fine and 14 years' jail.
The first charge related to Xu providing services to an unidentified pregnant mainlander on December 28, while the second charge involved mainlander Li Xiuhui, who demanded ambulance services after she passed the Lok Ma Chau checkpoint on January 15. Xu was accompanying Li at the time.
Agnes Chan Wing-han, assistant director of public prosecutions, told the court that officers arranged assistance on humanitarian grounds because Li's waters broke. She gave birth in Prince of Wales Hospital.
However, Ma said that a deterrent sentence was called for, to stop agents risking others' lives for the agents' benefit. He said the public were 'worried, concerned and even angered' by mainlanders who sought emergency deliveries through accident and emergency facilities.
'Such an act poses a serious health and life risk to the mother and the baby,' Ma said. 'It also seriously affects the city's medical resources and manpower. The public is very dissatisfied that it deprives local pregnant mothers of obstetrics services.'
Wong Yin-sang, principal immigration officer of enforcement, said that mainland women who hired the services of such an agent - who is unauthorised to work in Hong Kong - might face three years' jail and a HK$350,000 fine.
In separate cases, five mainland women, aged 21 to 38, were sentenced to jail terms of two to four weeks suspended for three years for overstaying from one to three months. They gave birth in hospitals between December and January.
Veteran barrister Martin Lee Chu-ming QC said administrative measures were sufficient to curb the influx of mainland mothers-to-be.
'There is no need to interpret or amend the Basic Law,' said Lee, a member of the Basic Law Drafting Committee. 'The key is that the Hong Kong government can co-operate with the mainland authorities to plug the gate at the source.'
While the public debate has been on the law's article 24, which states that Chinese citizens born in Hong Kong can enjoy the right of abode, Lee said the law was drafted with intent to leave the gatekeeper's duty with the central government.
Legislator Raymond Ho Chung-tai, however, urged the government to consider a reinterpretation of the Basic Law to alleviate the problem.
The number of births to mainland mothers in HK emergency wards in January. The figure for January 2011 was 89