By Uncle C
Last week I went to a pharmaceutical shop in North Point. There was a queue which included a number of pregnant women all chattering in Fukienese. There was something about their speech and behaviour that left me with no doubt whatsoever that they had come to Hong Kong for the purpose of giving birth. I overheard them as they exchanged information about which part of Fujian province they came from, how long they had been in Hong Kong, and where they planned to have their babies. Almost without exception they were shopping for just those items one expects women in their stage of very advanced pregnancy to buy.
There is little doubt in my mind that the issue of mainland women having their babies delivered here in Hong Kong will develop into a major social and economic problem. I cannot foresee that the problem will become a political matter here unless of course Beijing makes a big issue out of it, which seems unlikely for many reasons. In any case no political party will dare to make a political issue out of this issue. My concern is not political.
There are a number of principles that may make this a tricky issue for Hong Kong. First of all, the obvious primary advantage of having a baby born here is to claim the right of Hong Kong abode for the rest of the child’s life. The law concerning the right of abode can of course be changed but it would be unethical and unfair to change the law because babies clearly have no choice as to where they are born. And in any case who can blame a loving mother who wishes to ensure the best possible future for her child.
There have been suggestions that it should be made more difficult for pregnant women to enter Hong Kong and, if they give birth here, to charge them higher medical fees. But it is obviously difficult to discriminate against pregnant women if they wish to come here as tourists. It would be against the law and against our international legal obligations.
Personally, I am against the idea of increased fees which are designed to discourage the poor from coming to Hong Kong. Why should the rich only benefit? How much should the hospitals charge? Even if they increase their charge to, say, $100,000 per mainland baby, the effect might be to encourage rich mothers from other parts of China to give birth here. Hong Kong might become a brand name for producing babies. On the other hand if the present trend continues it is bound in my view to create many economic and social problems for Hong Kong.
It is a very difficult matter to handle, and one which will cause passionate feelings. I do not know what the answer is going to be but first of all I think we need a public debate about Hong Kong’s response. Hopefully, the government think-tank is putting their minds to this question and will seek to involve the public in its thinking. Or do we have to rely on Mrs. Anson Chan’s core-group to come out with the solution?