Hong Kong bans mainland Chinese from giving birth

September 4th, 2008 - 1:18 pm ICT by IANS  

Hong Kong, Sep 4 (DPA) Hong Kong hospitals Thursday started to turn away women arriving from mainland China to give birth in the city in an attempt to stop a flood of cross-border “maternity tourists” costing the former British colony millions of dollars.The territory has imposed a three-month ban on childbirth bookings by mainland mothers, many of whom cross the border heavily pregnant to give birth in the wealthy city’s public hospitals.

Giving birth in Hong Kong not only guarantees them world-class health care but in many cases secures citizenship of the city of 6.9 million for children who would otherwise be entitled to only a Chinese passport.

Hong Kong citizenship entitles them to free education, health care and other benefits throughout their life, the equivalent of a lottery win for children from poor families in southern China.

The easing of cross-border restrictions in 2003 led to a flood of women crossing the border to give birth, sometimes arriving by the coach-load in “maternity tours” organised by enterprising middlemen.

More than 12,000 women from China gave birth in the territory in 2006, often leaving without paying nominal maternity charges, putting an enormous strain on the city’s public health services.

In February 2007, Hong Kong’s Hospital Authority imposed charges of up to 6,000 US dollars for each non-resident birth, which initially led to a fall of almost 40 percent in mainland Chinese women giving birth in the city.

But mainland women kept coming and in the first half of 2007 one fifth checked out without paying their bills while one third paid only a portion.

Altogether, the cost of mainland mothers who have given birth in Hong Kong hospitals and then left without paying all or some of their bills totals around $6 million a year.

Now, bookings for non-resident women have been suspended from September to December to allow local women to be given priority at the peak period for births in Hong Kong.

Hospital Authority spokeswoman Beatrice Cheng said the ban might be extended to peak periods next year as the problem of overburdened maternity services remained acute.

“September to December is the peak season for births,” she told government-run radio station RTHK Thursday. “There will be 20 to 30 percent more deliveries compared to non-peak times.

“Our priority is to serve local mothers and ensure all of them receive a service at public hospitals.”

Hong Kong reverted to Chinese rule in 1997 after 156 years as a British colony but maintains a tightly-controlled border and economic and political autonomy under a “one country two systems” arrangement.

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