Global Observer

Crisis in Hong Kong's maternity wards expected to get worse in Year of the Dragon

Crisis in Hong Kong's maternity wards expected to get worse in Year of the Dragon

Posting in Technology

HONG KONG -- Year of the Dragon is expected to put even more strain on hospitals as superstitious parents try for a lucky baby.

HONG KONG — Monday marked the first day of the Year of the Dragon, as well as an expected baby boom. And it’s bad news for Hong Kong’s already strained hospitals.

Maternity wards have already been overcapacity with the number of babies being born over the past few years. It is a heated issue that has sparked daily protests over the five-day Chinese New Year weekend.

The problem stems from women from the mainland flooding into the former British colony to delivery their babies. Doing so automatically grants the newborns Hong Kong residency and all the welfare that goes along with it. It is also a way of overcoming China’s one-child policy, as Hong Kong is considered an autonomous region that, to a degree, runs itself.

Indignant Hong Kong locals have been out in force to protest the lack of control over the numbers pregnant Chinese allowed in. In 2010, babies born to mainland Chinese families where neither parents was a Hong Kong resident reached 37% of all babies born in Hong Kong.

Last year, the number of mainland Chinese permitted to book hospital beds in Hong Kong's maternity wards was capped at 34,400. But this rule only resulted in alarming numbers of mainland women rushing to the emergency room at the last minute to give birth, when care cannot be denied. Non-local mothers having babies in emergency rooms doubled last year from 2010.

Residents are indignant that local women are having difficulty making appointments at hospitals to deliver their babies; most disturbing are reports of women being forced to give birth in hospital corridors due to lack of beds. But they are also concerned about sharing resources, such as high-quality schooling and health care, that are afforded to residents.

But some mainland Chinese are adamant about having their babies in Hong Kong, at times resorting to illegal agencies that promise to arrange successful border entry, temporary housing, delivery services, even entry into desirable kindergartens.

To health care workers, the most pressing issue is the strain on hospitals. And the system is dreading an expected boom in pregnancies, as traditional parents opt for a dragon baby this year, considered the luckiest kind.

It seems silly, but superstitions die hard. Dragon years have a history of producing more babies.

Reuters reported that some hospitals are responding by expanding maternity wards and raising fees for mainland mothers to as high as $7,500 for a natural birth in a shared room at private hospitals, or $5,000 at public ones for a pre-booked bed.

One local mother, Zumi Fung, said she felt obligated to put down a $1,250 deposit on a bed just weeks into her pregnancy before spaces filled up, which did not give her time to shop around for a hospital. “There was no time to consider whether I should use a public or private hospital. I had to put the money down as insurance,” she said.

The latest proposed measures to clamp down on “birth tourism” involve tighter border control and more stringent quotas. Many activists are calling for an abolishment of birthright citizenship, which is hardly practiced anywhere in the world. The U.S. and Canada are the only developed countries that automatically grant citizenship to babies born to aliens.

Photo: flickr/cloneofsnake

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Vanessa Ko

Correspondent (Hong Kong)

Vanessa Ko has written for TIME, South China Morning Post and Phnom Penh Post. She holds degrees from Northwestern University and the University of Hong Kong. She is based in Hong Kong, China. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure