Hong Kong: What Can Be Done to Stop Birth Tourism from China?

One of the major conflicts between Hong Kong and China stems from birth tourism. According to official statistics, 95,337 babies were born in Hong Kong in 2011 and as much as 40% of babies’ parents are birth tourists from Mainland China.

According to the Hong Kong Basic Law, the mini-constitution in Hong Kong, children born to parents of Chinese origin can enjoy right of abode and full citizenship even though neither of the parents is a local resident. As a result, a large number of mainland Chinese pregnant women travel to Hong Kong to give birth so as to escape from the one-child policy and pave the future for their offspring.

The profile picture of Facebook group “Say No to Mainland pregnant women giving birth in Hong Kong!”

The profile picture of Facebook group “Say No to Mainland pregnant women giving birth in Hong Kong!”

Since 2009, the shortage of maternity wards in private hospitals alerted local mothers. Public discontent exploded when a local newspaper reported at the end of 2011 that maternity places in these hospitals are fully booked until October 2012. Against this background, the Facebook Group “Say No to Mainland pregnant women giving birth in Hong Kong!” [founded in July 2011] has recruited more than 112,000 followers within 6 months.

The discontented local mothers also blame the influx of mainland pregnant women for the decline in the quality of maternity services in Hong Kong. Below is the experience of a new mother in the maternity ward shared in Facebook [Link to the widely shared note is not provided as the user profile is not public]:



In mid-January I gave birth in Queen Mary Hospital. In the waiting room I saw a mother, speaking Mandarin with her waters broken. The doctor asked her about her pre-natal check, she repeatedly answered ‘I don’t know’. On the day of operation, I saw the doctor’s schedule. Five in a single morning. No wonder many senior doctors in public hospitals have resigned.In the post-natal ward, there were many non-local mothers. I stayed in the hospital for three days and two nights. Two Mandarin people shouted at the medical staff. One of them said she had a child in Shenzhen, so she requested the pediatrician to allow her to leave. The staff told her that the natal ICU was full and doctors were busy. But she insisted. I couldn’t tolerate this and asked her not to disturb the staff. Then the staff member moaned when cleaning my wound, telling me that she was scolded by those Mainland mothers. They spoke Mandarin as if they worked in the Mainland…and told me I was lucky to have my operation one day earlier, because the following day a high-risk pregnant woman was rushed to the emergency ward. She needed to have an emergency operation. The hospital had to postpone all subsequent bookings!

The advertisement depicting the invasion of Hong Kong by a gigantic locust

The advertisement depicting the invasion of Hong Kong by a gigantic locust

In reaction to the public discontent, the Hong Kong government has finally decided to suspend the booking of maternity services by mainland pregnant women in public hospitals. However, many still believe that the large number of offspring of birth tourists from mainland China would increase the city's social burden.

In early February 2012, netizens from Baby Kingdom and Golden Discussion Forum, jointly published an advertisement in a popular newspaper, which depicts the invasion of Hong Kong by a gigantic locust, a metaphor of mainland Chinese intruders in Hong Kong.

Margaret Ng a barrister, legislator and member of the political party, the Civic Party, pointed out that the root cause of the sudden influx of mainland birth tourists is a result of the local government's relaxation of border control under the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement (CEPA), a free trade arrangement agreed upon between Hong Kong and Mainland China which opens up huge markets for Hong Kong goods and services.

Ng reviewed the city's immigration history in relation to its border control policy in a seminar [zh]:

從兩地封關開始,出入境設有嚴格的關卡,互為分隔。而八十年代到內地娶妻生子的一群,其子女就受到影響,很難來港。當時兩地政府便就兩地的出入境限制協商,結果出現「配額」這種東西。在這個背景下訂立的《中英聯合聲明》,成為日後《基本法》的依據。…直至 2001 年,內地人要來香港仍然十分困難。但自從 2003 年七一後開放自由行,至去年全年共有一千四百萬內地人來港,僅有四萬雙非孕婦數量算少。

Hong Kong has been a migrant society, since the beginning of the colonial era to the establishment of the People Republic of China. People could travel in and out of Hong Kong freely until the 1950s when the colonial government adopted a touch base policy and issued identity cards to those who successfully arrived at the city. The policy was abolished in the 1970s… The border was then under strict control. For those who gave birth in mainland China in the 1980s, their offspring could not enter Hong Kong easily. The two governments then came up with the “quota system”. The Sino British Joint Declaration was signed in this context and it had become the principle in the drafting of Basic Law… Until 2001, it was still very difficult for mainland Chinese to enter Hong Kong. But since July 1 2003, the individual visa policy has been implemented and last year alone, more than 14 million mainland Chinese visited Hong Kong. 40 thousand birth tourists was a comparative small figure.

Against such a background, Facebook user Edwin Chau condemned the private medical sector for taking advantage of the policy loophole to sell their maternity services with a Hong Kong “citizenship” package, as the majority of birth tourists enter the city with proper bookings from private hospitals:

因為實情是,那3萬多個,佔96%的雙非個案,全部都是有政府認可的預約。即是,他們都是經政府人口/商業政策許可之下入境的,In the name of 「發展醫療產業」。……簡單來說,販賣居港權,才是要堵塞的漏洞。

The reality is that, 96% of the 30,000 Mainland expectant mothers have already booked for maternity beds, endorsed by the government. That means, they visited Hong Kong legally under the existing policy framework. In the name of ‘development of medical industry’… Simply speaking, they are selling out the right of abode. And this is the loophole [the government] should be tackling.

Some social and political groups have decided to advocate for an constitutional amendment to address the problem. However, an amendment of the Basic Law has to be approved by at least two-thirds of the Legislative Council members and two-thirds of the Hong Kong deputies to the National People’s Congress (NPC) before submitting to the Steering Committee of the National People’s Congress. This seems to be another mission impossible.

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