Mainland moms fill HK hospitals

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Hong Kong's birth rate hit a record high in the past 12 months, with nearly half of the babies born to mainland mothers, statisticians said yesterday.

The trend among mainlanders to deliver babies in the special administrative region has created a dilemma for local authorities. On the one hand, Hong Kong people are demanding the city reserve more social resources for natives - yet the inflow of affluent mainlanders can bring more job opportunities and money.

A total of 84,700 babies were born in Hong Kong from last June to this June, a year-on-year increase of 4 percent, pushing the city's population to a record 7.06 million, Hong Kong's Census and Statistics Department said yesterday.

Among the newborn, 38,600 were from mainland families - 46 percent of the total.

The ratio was a big jump from 2002, when only 18 out of 100 babies were born to mainlanders.

A major reason for the rash of Hong Kong births was to circumvent China's mainland's one-child policy, under which parents of multiple children may be heavily fined or hampered from promotion if they work in government agencies.

Many were also attracted by Hong Kong's permanent residency, known as "green card," automatically bestowed upon children born in Hong Kong, entitling them to the city's social welfare, including high-quality education, free medical care and a passport with visa-free access to more than 100 countries.

This has created a backlash among locals worried that the mainland children will compete for classroom space and hospital beds.

In 2007, to curb the flow of mainland women, officials implemented a pricing scheme charging mainland women nearly 50 times more than locals who gave birth in Hong Kong's public hospitals.

Last October, officials suspended all maternity ward bookings for non-residents to "ensure there was enough room for Hong Kong natives during the peak baby season." But the policy expired in January.

A maternity trip to Hong Kong has become so popular that services have sprung up to arrange mothers' travel permits and hospital bookings.

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