Mainland women gatecrashing Hong Kong’s maternity wards, 3 years after CY Leung’s ‘zero-quota’ policy

Despite the ‘zero-quota’ policy having been in effect for three years, some 800 mainland women are still giving birth in Hong Kong hospitals each year

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 24 April, 2016, 11:09pm
UPDATED : Monday, 25 April, 2016, 9:44am

Three years after Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying announced a “zero-quota” policy to ban mainland women from having babies in Hong Kong, there are still about 800 cross-border births every year.

These babies were delivered by mainland women who ­gatecrashed the city’s emergency wards, almost half at over­crowded public hospitals, at late stages of pregnancy in order to obtain right of abode for the child.

While the issue has renewed debate on whether the government should amend the laws to plug the loophole, a demography expert warned of deepening anti-mainland sentiment if the government did not take steps to plan for the integration of these cross-border children.

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“Hong Kong is now filled with anti-mainland sentiments. If these groups of children cannot be integrated into the society, the cross-border conflicts will only get worse,” Paul Yip Siu-fai, a demography specialist at the University of Hong Kong, said.

Yip said the government should estimate how many of these children would return to Hong Kong, and there should be sufficient support for them to blend into society.

Hong Kong is now filled with anti-mainland sentiments. If these groups of children cannot be integrated into the society, the cross-border conflicts will only get worse

Leung announced the ban in 2013 at a time when the city was facing an overwhelming number of such births.

Before that, about 200,000 babies were born to mainland parents in the city after a landmark court ruling in 2001 declared newborns should be given the right of abode regardless of their parents’ immigration status. At its peak, 40 per cent of some 90,000 annual births in the city were to mainland parents, putting pressure on Hong Kong’s health care, education and welfare services.

Leung also warned he “would not guarantee” babies born to non-local parents after 2013 would be able to gain residency, and named a few possible means to close the loopholes under Article 24 of the Basic Law . However, none of these materialised.

The move cut the number of babies born to non-local parents from more than 35,000 per year to about 800 every year since 2013.

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Last year, 755 babies were born to non-local parents among a total of 60,803 births in the city. Some 4,775 births were to mainland women with local husbands, who are not affected by the rule, according to the Census and Statistics Department.

About half of the 755 births to non-local parents took place at public hospitals, which charge about HK$100,000 for the service, and cannot turn away emergency cases due to ethical concerns.

The problem can only be rooted out by legal means, since the pregnant women would still wait until they were in a very urgent condition before they gatecrash the public accident and emergency units

The rest were born in private hospitals, which are in agreement with the government to stop accepting bookings from mainland women without local husbands.

“The problem can only be rooted out by legal means, since the pregnant women would still wait until they were in a very urgent condition before they gatecrash the public accident and emergency units, putting themselves and their babies at risk,” private obstetrician and gynaecologist Dr Kun Ka-yan said.

“It is also not fair to Hong­kongers who are waiting for the urgent service.”

Urgent delivery cases require at least one doctor and two nurses for hours, and the mothers would have to occupy a bed for days, he said.

Executive Council member and former security minister ­Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, who in 2013 criticised the zero-quota policy as lacking legal basis, now says the policy has proven to be effective and sufficient.

She said taking away the right of abode for mainland babies would only spark public disputes.

Shenzhen officials estimate that the number of cross-border students might almost triple from 30,000 last year to a peak of 85,000 starting this year, as children born in the period where birth rates were high have now reached school age.