How much are you willing to pay to have a second child with Hong Kong residency rights or American citizenship? That's the question Shenzhen authorities asked the city's residents when they introduced heavy fines this year for those who exploit loopholes in the mainland's one-child policy and give birth overseas.
Since Tuesday, Shenzhen permanent residents have faced fines of at least 219,000 yuan (HK$270,000) for giving birth to a second baby, whether in Hong Kong, the US or another foreign country. The amount is six times the city's average annual income last year but it can increase sharply if the parents' annual income is higher.
Rich couples earning more than 73,000 yuan a year will be required to pay an extra amount equal to twice the difference. For example, a couple earning 500,000 yuan a year could be fined 1.07 million yuan for their second child, including the basic 219,000 yuan fine and 854,000 yuan in additional fines.
If the parents evade the fines, the child won't be able to get a hukou (right to residency) in Shenzhen. On the mainland, children without a hukou can't receive public education or enjoy any social welfare benefits. The China Economic Weekly estimates there are 13 million yuan mainlanders without a hukou - many of them second or third children.
But will the new regulation really be able to stop mainland mothers giving birth in Hong Kong or overseas? The answer is probably not.
Shenzhen mothers planning to give birth to a second child overseas say they hope to avoid the one million yuan fine by getting an unemployment certificate, changing their permanent residency to another city, or waiting until the national census for a reduced fine, often offered to encourage families to report the true number of people in a household, the Southern Metropolis Daily reported last week.
"I heard that my colleague spent only 10,000 yuan to get her second child permanent residency in their hometown," a woman about to give birth to her second child told the newspaper. "I'm planning to get an unemployment certificate to avoid the one million yuan fine."
Lawyer Wong Kwok Tung said a 219,000 yuan fine wouldn't be enough to stop mainland mothers from giving birth in Hong Kong because of the enticing education, health care and other social welfare benefits available in Hong Kong.
Dr Cheung Tak-hong, head of obstetrics and gynaecology at the public Prince of Wales Hospital in Sha Tin and a spokesman for the Hong Kong Obstetric Service Concern Group, which wants to limit the number of mainland women giving birth in Hong Kong, said most mainland mothers giving birth in Hong Kong came from outside Guangdong anyway.
The number of babies born to mainland parents in Hong Kong rose from 620 in 2001 to more than 44,000 in 2011, prompting the Hong Kong government to introduce a zero-births quota from the start of this year designed to stop mainland women not married to Hong Kong residents giving birth in the city. But Hong Kong permanent residency has proven so popular on the mainland that even the daughter of Politburo member Liu Yandong and the wife of Olympic diving champion Tian Liang chose to give birth in Hong Kong last year, according to Hong Kong and mainland media reports.
The rising number of pregnant Chinese women living in their community also triggered a protest in Los Angeles' Chino Hills neighbourhood last month. Dozens of people protested against a neighbourhood birthing centre used by pregnant Chinese women who fly in to give birth that so their babies will be American citizens.
Besides the US, Saipan, a tropical island in the Marianas archipelago in the western Pacific that is an unincorporated US territory, has also been targeted by many Chinese mothers-to-be as a cheaper and more convenient destination to give birth to babies with American citizenship.
"Spend 100,000 yuan in Saipan to get your baby an American passport, or it'll cost you US$9.8 million for investment immigration," an agent's online advertisement said. However, Saipan immigration authorities have reportedly tightened controls on pregnant Chinese tourists.
It seems no single policy will stop some mainland mothers-to-be from going to any lengths to give birth overseas in the hope of giving their children a better future. And that means that birth tourism is likely to remain a knotty problem for Hong Kong and many other places.