"Maternity Tourism" is fast becoming a problem in Hong Kong, as nearly 40,000 pregnant women from China, try to cross the border to give birth, every year.
York Chow, the Health Secretary expressed concern that with the rapid increase of mainland Chinese women, needing obstetrics and neonatal services, to nearly 50 percent of the total figure in Hong Kong, it was building up to become a major problem. The official prediction is that by the year 2012, the number would have increased to 100,000.
'This is a real problem we need to tackle,' he said. '... Our basic principle is we have to give priority to local mothers.'
China's 'one-child' policy was the trigger point which made increasing number of mainland Chinese women cross the border. But there were other reasons too. Babies born in Hong Kong had automatic access to residency, free education and healthcare.
All these benefits are proving to be so attractive that even a steep maternity fee of 5,000 US dollars per birth has not deterred the influx. Although the mandatory fees and other regulations did impact the numbers initially, China's recent economic prosperity has changed this situation.
Severe pressure is now on the healthcare and medical system that is finding it very difficult to cope with the increasing numbers. Schools too are being burdened down with more and more children seeking entry into prestigious institutions.
Policymakers in Hong Kong are facing a dilemma, as on one hand they need to ensure their own people are not deprived of necessary medical care, while on the other, banning maternity tourism could be economically not viable.
Right now, all that may be done is to hike up the mandatory fees on non-resident mothers.