A magistrate at Fanling Court yesterday lashed out at parallel traders who smuggle baby formula across the border, before sentencing one of them to two weeks in jail. Principal Magistrate Bernadette Woo Huey Fang said the smuggling situation had "spiralled out of control". She called the problem "unprecedented" and "shocking" and said that not only had the number of cases jumped, the quantity of materials involved had also skyrocketed. Woo delivered her strongly worded comments minutes before she sentenced a clerk from mainland China to jail. The clerk, Wu Mingying, 30, admitted to sneaking 20.1kg of formula across the border at the Lok Ma Chau immigration checkpoint. The amount of formula she carried was almost 12 times the 1.8kg limit, known as the two-tin rule, which the Hong Kong government introduced in 2013. According to the Customs and Excise Department, 7,638 people have been convicted for smuggling formula since 2013, with some 45,500kg of the substance confiscated. Of those convicted, just 69 have been jailed. The magistrate, who heard 24 similar cases yesterday, said the incidents were on the rise from fewer than 3,000 in 2013 to some 5,000 last year. While most had initially been found with small amounts, Woo said discoveries of 20kg to 30kg "were no longer a surprise". She said the trend had led courts to impose heavier punishments since June, but no effect had been seen. She also shared a startling observation, saying that leaders of smuggling gangs would sit in on her sentencing hearings. They used to target youngsters to carry the formula, she said, but would now ask older people, sometimes in their 60s, to do the job instead - in the hope that they would receive lighter sentences if caught. Woo warned senior citizens not to agree to such requests, saying she would not hesitate to put offenders in immediate custody. She pleaded with criminal bosses to "do her a favour" and not involve elderly people. Woo also said she would start ordering offenders to pay fines on the day of their conviction, as some had fled when she gave them time to pay up.