Health chiefs plan to ban adverts for overseas baby sex-selection trips

As demand from parents wanting to choose the sex of their babies soars, health chiefs plan to outlaw advertising of tours to overseas clinics

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 October, 2013, 6:57am
UPDATED : Sunday, 20 October, 2013, 6:57am

Health chiefs are set to slap an advertising ban on Hong Kong businesses that offer medical tourism packages for the growing number of couples who want to choose the sex of their babies.

Sex selection is illegal in Hong Kong and on the mainland, but as demand for it rises, a growing number of firms are working around grey areas in the law to arrange trips to clinics in Thailand or the United States, where the procedure is not outlawed.

An investigation by the Sunday Morning Post has discovered that more and more wealthy couples from Hong Kong and the mainland want to pay to choose the sex of their children. In tandem with this there has been a growth in high-profile advertising by companies which charge up to HK$2.3 million to organise an overseas medical package.

A Food and Health Bureau spokesman said it was aware of the "proliferation of advertisements in recent years, and will look to amend the ordinance … with a view to banning local advertisements or promotional activities related to sex selection through [reproductive technology], regardless of where the treatment is to be performed."

The procedure is legal in Thailand, the US, South Africa and the Middle East, which are attracting increasing numbers of mainland and Hong Kong couples.

Alfred Siu Wing-fung, who owns package operator Eden Hospitality, says he has 300 couples on his books - 200 of them added in the past year.

Siu said: "I'm not doing anything illegal. It's like gambling. It's illegal in Hong Kong, but I can teach you how to play blackjack and take you to Macau to gamble. Casinos aren't banned from advertising in Hong Kong. This is the same."

The practice of screening just-fertilised embryos for genetic diseases also allows for their sex to be identified. While the technique has been available since the early 1990s, ethical worries about its eugenic implications have led to strict controls on its use in most countries.

Hong Kong's Human Reproductive Technology Ordinance of 2007 bans the use of reproductive technology to select the sex of a baby.

While exceptions are made for sex-linked hereditary diseases, anyone breaking the law can be fined up to HK$25,000 and faces a six-month prison term.

Legal experts say the prosecution of middlemen would be difficult as the law is unclear.

But Puja Kapai, director of the Centre for Comparative and Public Law at the University of Hong Kong, said: "Outside counsel might advise that in the context of Chinese culture's preference for boys, they could be violating the United Nations treaty covering discrimination against women."

Numbers from the Reproductive Partners Medical Group in Shanghai show couples from Beijing and Shanghai have 62/38 male-to-female ratios, while those in tier-two cities such as Guangzhou prefer male babies at a 79/21 ratio.

But clinics in Thailand say Hong Kong parents are likely to ask for a girl, according to Emily Soo, the marketing manager for BNH Hospital in Bangkok.

Among the firms offering the service in the city are Fertility-Plus Consultancy and Premier Health Services. Clinics can charge from HK$250,000 to HK$2.3 million depending on the host country.

An estimated five million babies have been born using assisted reproductive technologies since 1978, according to the International Committee for the Monitoring of Assisted Reproductive Technology.