Hong Kong must redouble efforts to deter mainland women from giving birth here
Many have the misguided belief that babies born in city will have a better life only to find later that their decision is more a hindrance than an advantage
Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying’s “zero-quota” policy on babies being born to mainland parents in Hong Kong has been a success. Since being introduced in 2013, the annual number has been reduced from 35,000 to 755 last year. Although it has led to less strain on maternity wards, women are still arriving in the belief that with right of abode for their child comes a better life. But some families have already found only problems and inconvenience; until the message sinks in, the government’s best option is tougher administrative measures.
Under the policy, mainland parents cannot make bookings to have a baby in a Hong Kong hospital. A mainland woman married to a local husband can, but only in a private hospital. The heavily pregnant women who arrive as tourists and then go to emergency rooms at public hospitals when they are ready to give birth are therefore coming under false pretences. A 2001 court ruling ensures that their babies will get right of abode, assuring education, health care and welfare. Hospitals cannot turn them away on humanitarian grounds and a large fee awaits, which about 10 per cent fail to pay.
Leung introduced the policy amid growing anger that our system was being abused. Maternity wards were pushed to capacity at the expense of service to Hongkongers and some New Territories schools close to Shenzhen have been overwhelmed by a cross-border influx. Too late, some mainland parents have found their decision to be more a hindrance than an advantage; their baby having been born outside the district in which they live means registration for government services is unavailable, leading to expensive private education and health care. Hong Kong schooling can involve hours of daily travel time.
If mainland parents cannot be convinced that it is not worth their trouble, the government has to deter them from coming. Legal means are problematic, with amending the Basic Law difficult. Revisiting the 2001 court decision or going to Beijing for interpretation of the legislation would be controversial and could damage public confidence in judicial independence and the rule of law. That leaves the best option being for immigration officers to intensify questioning of pregnant mainland women; they have every right to refuse entry to those they suspect are coming to give birth. Mothers who evade border checks or untruthfully fill out arrival forms should expect hefty fines or jail terms. Until the policy is amended or dropped, every effort at enforcement has to be made.