Beijing steps up crackdown on sex tests for unborn babies

Agents undeterred despite tightening of controls over trafficking of blood samples to Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 22 January, 2015, 1:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 22 January, 2015, 6:00pm

Beijing is cracking down on pregnant mainlanders sending their blood samples across the border to check their babies' sex, in an effort to stop selective abortion.

But agents who arrange for such DNA tests in Hong Kong believe the move will have little impact on the thriving trade.

Fourteen government agencies, including the National Health and Family Planning Commission and the public security ministry, have been tasked to crack down on the illegal trade.

China has the world's highest sex ratio at birth - with 118 boys born for every 100 girls last year - because of selective abortion under a strict birth control policy in a culture that prefers boys.

It is illegal on the mainland to check the sex of an unborn child for non-medical reasons.

A circular issued on Wednesday instructed the authorities to step up internet censorship of posts advertising such services as well as related search results.

Hospitals and clinics were told to increase supervision of staff drawing blood from pregnant women and border control officials were ordered to step up checks to stop the movement of unauthorised blood samples.

Whistle-blowers who report such services will be rewarded.

Illegal mainland clinics with portable ultrasound scanners have been a popular choice with expectant parents, but in recent years, more have been sending blood samples - mostly to Hong Kong - for DNA tests.

Agents claim clients can receive the test results just a day after submitting their samples, with over 99 per cent accuracy.

Shenzhen customs stepped up their crackdown on people smuggling such blood samples across the border last year.

In July, 215 tubes of blood from pregnant mainlanders were seized by the Wenjindu and Lo Wu customs. In October, a Hong Kong woman was caught carrying 16 tubes of blood across the Lo Wu checkpoint.

But agents remain confident that they can get around the authorities and keep their illicit businesses running.

An agent told the South China Morning Post that even with tightened controls, business was still good.

For 4,000 yuan (HK$5,000), a pregnant mainlander could send a tube of her blood, wrapped in dry ice, to a Hong Kong blood test centre via Shenzhen. The blood would be tested within 72 hours of being drawn and the results and a report would be available the next day, he said. "We never run the risk of arranging to send a bulk consignment of tubes. We'd rather have more people cross the border more frequently and carry just two or three tubes each time," the agent said.

Another agent said the crackdown had affected business and that some test centres were now offering 10 per cent discounts to attract more mainland clients.

Additional reporting by Minnie Chan