Parents are turning increasingly to agencies for baby sex selection

Parents are increasingly turning to agencies which have links with overseas IVF centres

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

With the faint whiff of eugenics about it, the act of choosing the sex of your baby may be anathema to many people.

But increasing numbers of Hong Kong and mainland parents are getting around laws which ban the procedure at home by hiring the services of middlemen to smooth the way - at a price.

These facilitator businesses partner with clinics and hospitals in places like Thailand and the United States, where an IVF procedure can cost anything from HK$250,000 to HK$2.3 million.

"We have people who want a boy and a girl at the first go," says 32-year-old Tina Fong Wai-lan, who runs Eden Hospitality with her husband Alfred Siu Wing-fung. Set up in 2008, it has arranged for more than 300 couples to go overseas on IVF and sex selection packages. "If it's the first time they're having children, the [Chinese] government won't penalise them," she said. Others look to even out the sex balance in their families.

Business has spiked with their client base tripling to 300 in the past year - about 70 per cent from the mainland and the rest from Hong Kong. The increase could be partly due to an advertising strategy which offers marriage packages alongside baby sex selection services.

On the company's homepage offering wedding services, a smiling baby's face promotes sex selection. Eden Hospitality also runs the Eden Marriage Registry, which operates three wedding venues in Hong Kong, including The Glass Chapel in Kowloon Tong, a wealthy district populated with kindergartens, schools and love hotels.

"We don't actively pitch to couples [in person] that are booking wedding packages, but they remember us a few years later," said Siu.

In partnership with the Bangkok-based SAFE Fertility Centre, they charge HK$245,000 for medical costs, round-trip airfare, limousine pickup at the airport, Chinese translators, accommodation and a butler service. Couples can also pay extra to have baby formula delivered back home. Hong Kong has imposed a two-can limit on anyone taking formula out of the city.

The BNH Hospital in Thailand also reports a steady growth in the number of Chinese clients, from just a dozen a year four years ago, to around 600 a year. The hospital opened a secondary outpatient department in August, catering to Chinese clients, and in the last two years has started sending its doctors to China to speak directly to prospective parents. It has also hired eight agents in China.

American companies are beginning to do the same. Reproductive Partners Medical Group opened its Shanghai office in October 2012 and has doubled its staff to 50 in the last four weeks, said Robert Rosen, the company's representative in China. Rosen says many of the couples already have existing reproductive problems and find the hospitals and clinics in China lacking. Their company charges from US$80,000 to US$300,000 for procedures in California.

Reverend Peter Koon, the spokesman for the Anglican Church in Hong Kong, said while the church could condone the use of IVF treatment for couples who had fertility problems, sex selection would go against the beliefs of the church.

Mr Wong, a Hong Kong client of Eden Hospitality, thinks the procedure is justified

"I've thought a lot about the ethical implications of the procedure and the definition of life. And since the embryo can't survive outside the womb for long, it's not technically alive," he told the Post.

Mr Wong is looking to have a baby boy to "balance" his family. He and his wife are already parents to two baby girls.