Mainland Chinese mothers deluge maternity wards of Hong Kong hospitals

Huang Rui, who had a baby boy in September, plans to have a second child soon. She moved to Hong Kong in June to join her husband and to circumvent China's "one child" family planning policy.
Huang Rui, who had a baby boy in September, plans to have a second child soon. She moved to Hong Kong in June to join her husband and to circumvent China's "one child" family planning policy. (Keith B. Richburg/the Washington Post)
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, December 20, 2009

HONG KONG -- Roger Huang is a happy, healthy baby boy, born in mid-September. But as far as the Chinese government is concerned, he doesn't exist -- not officially, anyway.

The baby was born in Hong Kong, after his mother, Huang Rui, a 31-year-old Beijing-based freelance journalist, moved here in June to join her husband, who is from Shanghai and works at a bank. The move was strategic; Huang plans to have a second child soon, and under China's "one child" family planning policy, Roger's Hong Kong birth doesn't count. (In recent years, China has softened its stance on the policy, with federal officials now debating even more radical changes.)

"My plan is to have two babies in three years, while I'm still not very old," Huang said. "Having the baby in Hong Kong is good -- we can have another child."

That loophole in China's one-child policy is one reason mothers from mainland China have deluged the maternity wards of Hong Kong's hospitals in recent years. Many women also come here for what they consider better medical facilities, which often have Western-trained doctors and nurses.

Children born here to mainland Chinese women automatically receive permanent residency status, entitling them to benefits including free education, free medical care and a Hong Kong passport with visa-free access to more than 100 countries.

The Hong Kong government reported that, for the first six months of the year, 44 of every 100 babies born in the former British colony had mainland Chinese mothers. The figure was about 18 of 100 in 2002, after which border controls were eased.

Trips to Hong Kong for births have become so popular that various pregnancy "booking services" have sprouted up, advertising online and through cellphone messages. The services include arranging the expectant women's travel permits to Hong Kong and hotel rooms.

The trend is a sign of China's growing affluence. Although past migrants to Hong Kong were poorer, mostly from neighboring Guangzhou province, the women now choosing the territory to give birth are often affluent professionals from Beijing or Shanghai; they fly to Hong Kong, skipping the train. They stay in hotels or rent apartments while awaiting the delivery. And they are willing to pay for top medical care.

"These people who want to come to Hong Kong are well-educated," said Yu Kai Man, a Hong Kong obstetrician and gynecologist. "Because they have the money, they think they deserve more."

Facing this cross-border fertility surge, Hong Kong authorities announced in October that they were suspending all maternity ward bookings at public hospitals for expectant mainland mothers for the rest of the year. The reason, according to a statement by the hospital authority: to ensure there was enough room for Hong Kong women during the peak baby season.

The suspension does not affect private hospitals, which welcome expectant mainland mothers as a way to fill maternity wards and raise revenue.

Hong Kong, a city of 7 million people, has been experiencing a relatively low birthrate, as more local women defer having children until later in life or choose not to have them. As a consequence, private hospitals rely on mainland women to keep their maternity wards full.

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