17pc more couples cross border for births despite curbs, fee rise The number of mainland mothers giving birth in Hong Kong is still rising despite the introduction early this year of immigration curbs and higher medical fees. The number of babies born to parents who both come from the mainland jumped to 12,596 in the first nine months of this year, up 17 per cent compared with the same period last year. The total number of babies born to mainland women, including those married to Hongkongers, rose 5 per cent, to 18,917, indicating a fall in the number of births to mainlanders with Hong Kong husbands. Over the period, 48,910 babies were born in the city - about 40 per cent to mainland women. The Hospital Authority now charges mainland women who give birth in Hong Kong public hospitals between HK$39,000 and HK$48,000. The Immigration Department also stops pregnant mainland woman coming to the city if they do not have a doctor's appointment. The effect has been to push pregnant mainlanders from public to private hospitals - if they can afford it. The Hospital Authority has seen a 32 per cent drop in the number of deliveries by mainlanders, while maternity wards in private hospitals are seeing record demand. Baptist Hospital chief executive Chiu Hak-fai said the hospital expected 9,000 deliveries this year, of which about 6,300 would be by mainland women, up from fewer than 4,000 last year. The hospital's obstetric beds are booked out until April. The Social Welfare Department said it had received 146 welfare applications for children born here to mainland parents since August 2006. University of Hong Kong social work professor Nelson Chow Wing-sun said the latest figures showed the measures to cut the influx had failed. 'It is particularly worrying that the number of mainland couples coming to give birth keeps rising because it is hard to predict if they will move to Hong Kong and their demand for public resources. It will bring uncertainty to our population policy.' Medical sector lawmaker Kwok Ka-ki said the public health system was still under pressure. 'Due to mainland mothers, beds and operating theatres in private hospitals are so full that some local patients are forced to go to public hospitals.' He urged the government to address the root of the problem by reviewing the Basic Law, which grants residency rights to mainlanders' children born in Hong Kong. Welfare sector legislator Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung said the government should further tighten the immigration measures. Ella Lau, who organised a march this year against the influx of mainland mothers, said local women still had to compete for beds. The Food and Health Bureau said it would continue to monitor the effectiveness of the new obstetric service arrangements. A spokesman for the chief secretary's office said the government would take the issue of mainland mothers into account when drawing up population policy. But University of Hong Kong statistician Paul Yip Siu-fai said mainlanders' babies could be good for Hong Kong by boosting its birth rate.