Pregnant women from the mainland may have to pay tens of thousands of dollars in hospital charges under a government proposal to discourage them from coming to Hong Kong to give birth. A government source said the proposal was one option being considered to curb this trend. Other measures included stepping up enforcement and exploring the possibility of more penalty options on the mainland and in Hong Kong. According to the Hospital Authority, 7,885 illegal immigrants or two-way permit holders gave birth at its hospitals last year. The figure was much higher than the number of cases known to the Immigration Department in which babies were born to mainland mothers last year. There was a disparity between the two figures as many cases were not known to the department. The number of babies known to the department last year represented a 55 per cent rise on the 458 cases in 1998. There were 225 such babies in the first half of this year. A majority of these babies' mothers were two-way permit holders while the rest were illegal immigrants and overstayers holding mainland passports. The government source said one option to discourage mainland pregnant women from giving birth in Hong Kong was to increase their costs. The women would need to pay the subsidised $68 daily rate for staying at a public hospital if their husbands were Hong Kong identity card holders. The charge covers fees for operations and most drugs. The charge for non-Hong Kong residents and their spouses is $3,130 a day plus a $20,000 deposit. A spokeswoman for the Health and Welfare Bureau confirmed they were carrying out a review on who should be entitled to the heavily subsidised medical charges. Under the government proposal, pregnant women from the mainland might have to pay tens of thousands of dollars if they gave birth at public hospitals and their family members may need to sign for their treatment as guarantors. The Hospital Authority does not require the patients to find guarantors at present but a spokeswoman said they would take legal action if they failed in repeated attempts to collect outstanding bills. The authority had to write off $23.8 million for such outstanding bills which could not be collected in the past financial year. The government source said they were also considering the possibility of prosecuting all those who helped mainland women give birth in Hong Kong, although this might be difficult as a husband could not be charged for aiding and abetting his wife. The Government is considering a series of anti-illegal immigration measures, partly because of the Court of Final Appeal's ruling on July 20 to grant right of abode to Chong Fung-yuen, who was born in Hong Kong to mainland parents while they were in the SAR on two-way permits.