Babies at the gate

Hong Kong is under threat! No, it’s not greedy speculators, bad air or the shortage of housing. It’s babies! More than half of all babies in Hong Kong are actually “Mainlanders”, babies born in Hong Kong to Mainland Chinese parents. Hong Kong seems to get flooded with Mainland babies which puts an unprecedented strain on Hong Kong’s society. Or does it? 

Similar to the “noodle incident” I blogged previously, the issue of Mainland Chinese giving birth in Hong Kong is a hot debate in Hong Kong. To understand the issue we need to cross the border and enter China.

Since the late 1970s, early 1980s China has a “one child policy”. Every couple is only allowed to have one child. This policy is less strict than many outside China believe. Minorities are exempted from this policy altogether and couples where both partners are single children themselves can also have two children. Moreover, if you have a girl you are normally allowed to have a second try. However, if you work for the government or in government controlled companies it’s better to stick to the one child policy.

What happens if you have a second child without a valid permit? (Yes, you need to get a permit before giving birth). You can either pay a very hefty fine (up to a few months local salaries) and get away with it or your kid doesn’t legally exist. That boils down to no school, no health insurance, no ID card, no passport!

There is also another solution – go abroad to have a second child. Since the one-child policy doesn’t apply in Hong Kong, many parents go to Hong Kong to give birth to their children. And here’s where the issue starts: According to Hong Kong’s constitution, the Basic Law, every Chinese born in Hong Kong to at least one Hong Kong citizen is entitled to the Hong Kong citizenship. However, a few years ago the Court in Hong Kong ruled that every Chinese Citizen born in Hong Kong is entitled to have Hong Kong’s citizenship (including free education for the first nine years of schooling, free health care, etc). That means that all children born to Mainland parents in Hong Kong are now Hong Kong citizens. The situation is similar as to the U.S. where everyone born in the United States is automatically a citizen of the U.S.

This court ruling in Hong Kong has lead to an influx of Mainlanders, gate-crashing hospitals. The authorities at the border try to prevent pregnant women from entering Hong Kong. But the Hong Kong – China border crossing is the busiest in the world with hundreds of thousands, sometimes millions, of people crossing every day. So far, it seems the controls aren’t that successful. More than half of all births in Hong Kong are now from Mainland parents. This, without a doubt, puts strain on Hong Kong’s health system as there are not enough beds for all these babies.

So do Honkies have reasons to be worried? Well, it depends…..

The fact is that Hong Kong is not inundated with babies – far from it! The opposite is true – there are not enough babies! Hong Kong and Macau have the lowest fertility rate in the world. There are about 0.90 to 1.10 babies per woman. However, a society needs 2.1 children per woman to keep it’s population at a stable level. Instead of complaining about Mainlanders getting babies here, Hong Kong’s leaders should find ways of how to integrate them into Hong Kong’s society. These babies will turn out to be very useful in 20 to 30 years from now – when they work here and pay taxes. Hong Kong’s alternative is to change from being “Asia’s World City” to “Asia’s Retirement Home”. That can be in no one’s interest though.

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