The public is up in arms about mainland mothers giving birth here, but is largely oblivious to a flood of young Hong Kong women and girls travelling across the border for the termination of unwanted pregnancies in substandard conditions. That unawareness is reflected in the relative indifference to the recent closure of Hong Kong Central Hospital, which performed an estimated 40 per cent of the city's clinical abortions.
The demand for terminations highlights a lack of sex information and education at home and school. In our conservative society, sex remains an awkward subject. Young people are often left to learn by themselves. Sadly, for many, this leads ultimately to hospitals over the border for affordable or discreet terminations, with a higher risk of infection, infertility, trauma and post-abortion emotional stress without psychological support. The reasons include our public hospitals' strict criteria and reluctance to provide abortions, high prices at private hospitals and the Family Planning Association's restriction of abortions to early-term pregnancies.
A drop of nearly 50 per cent in legal terminations in the decade to 2010 does reflect better awareness of contraception as well as the growing cross-border trade and resort to backyard clinics. However, a study commissioned by Mother's Choice, a non-government support organisation for pregnant girls, indicates that about 7,000, mostly from poor or broken families, face "crisis" pregnancies every year. Ignorance of sex issues is major factor, due to a lack of communication at home, reticence among teachers and a not-very-useful clinical hour of secondary school sex education. This leaves students to learn from each other and the internet. One of the many misconceptions unearthed by the Mother's Choice study was that girls cannot become pregnant from having sex for the first time.
Moral and sex education is ultimately the prerogative of parents. But lack of information leading to unwanted pregnancies can also have serious educational, health and financial consequences. Given Hong Kong's social conservatism, New York's answer - handing out contraceptives in public schools - is not an option. The government and non-government organisations should co-ordinate a campaign to promote the benefits of proper education at home and at school on healthy sex practices.