A 14pc leap in babies born last year alone will not solve problem of ageing population, expert says Hong Kong's birth rate has jumped to its highest level in more than a decade, with 14 per cent more babies born last year than in 2005. The increase was largely the result of a boom in babies born in the territory to non-local parents, which soared 69.7 per cent in one year and accounted for nearly a quarter of the 65,194 births last year. Babies born to non-local mothers and local fathers, however, fell last year by 3.8 per cent to 10,088. Babies of Chinese descent born in Hong Kong have automatic right of abode under a 2001 court ruling. The number of babies born to local mothers also rose, by 5 per cent to 39,062, following a 3.6 per cent increase in 2005, the first since 2000. There were 41,489 marriages in Hong Kong last year - 38,624 at registry offices and 2,865 at licensed places of public worship. Statistician Paul Yip Siu-fai, a senior lecturer at the University of Hong Kong, said the figures meant the city's fertility rate had increased from 0.966 children per woman in 2005 - among the world's lowest - to 1.1 last year. 'The figure is surprisingly high. But this cannot change the fact that our population is ageing. The fertility rate is still far below the replacement level of 2.1 children per woman. 'Many of the babies were born to visiting mothers from the mainland. The number of births among local mothers is still low, and the situation will continue since marriage figures are still low and people are getting married later in life.' Dr Yip, also a member of a Sustainable Development Council subgroup drafting the city's first consultation paper on population policy, said the higher birth rate would continue for some time with a continuing influx of mainland mothers and a booming economy. He also predicted that more babies would be born in Hong Kong this year since it is the auspicious 'Year of the Golden Pig'. The pig is a symbol of luck and fortune and it is believed babies born this year will have a peaceful and prosperous life. 'But the impact of this auspicious year will not last long,' he said. 'This will only bring pregnancies forward.' He said the huge jump in babies born to mainland parents needed to be monitored. 'But there is no need for panic [about] this influx of mainland mothers,' he said. 'These mothers now come to Hong Kong with loads of cash. This indeed brings a positive effect to our economy.' He said mainland parents, who pay HK$50,000 for medical fees on average, had contributed more than HK$800 million to the local economy to date. Kwok Ka-ki, legislator for the medical sector, said the government had to increase resources on maternity wards and could not rely on non-local babies to solve the problem of the ageing population. 'The problem is that we do not know how far away that rapid rise will peak,' he said. 'And there is a problem in terms of city planning. We do not know when and how many babies will come back here.' Law Chi-kwong, associate professor of social work at HKU, said it was impossible to draw conclusions about the impact of the 16,044 babies born in Hong Kong to non-local parents last year on the territory's education and social welfare systems because there was no information on where the babies were. Dr Law said he had informally advised the Education and Manpower Bureau to calculate the number of primary school places needed based on the number of children aged one to five rather than on births, to take account of non-local babies with right of abode. If they all returned, it would create a demand for six new primary schools.