The preference for male children remains strong in mainland China with the number of people bringing blood samples across the border to help prospective parents identify the gender of their future offspring rising.
China banned the practice of identifying the gender of a fetus (except for medical purposes) in 2003 to deal with the common practice of aborting male babies. China scrapped the one-child policy in 2016, but the preference for male babies remains and pregnant women continue to cross the border into Hong Kong to identify the gender of the fetuses.
“If it is a boy, we will definitely keep it. If it is a girl, we might need to think about it,” a couple from Zhejiang province told the local news channel i-Cable. The couple already have a daughter and prefer to not have another baby girl.
In Hong Kong, women who are pregnant for seven weeks or more can do a blood test to check the gender of the unborn baby for as little as HK$3,500. Sex selection is prohibited under Hong Kong law but non-locals are not subject to the law and can get abortions done elsewhere.
The loopholes and the different regulations exist under the “one country, two systems” principle that guarantees Hong Kong’s autonomy until 2047. There are private clinics and laboratories in Hong Kong catering to this special group of parents-to-be.
“All we need is just a blood sample taken via a standard medical blood draw,” a Hong Kong-based clinic GTLDNA advertises.
According to the clinic, the foetal DNA is extracted from the mother’s blood and analysed for the presence of Y male chromosomes. If the male Y chromosome is detected, it is a baby boy.
How it works
For mothers-to-be who cannot be in Hong Kong in person to do the test, there are agents in the market who offer to take their blood samples across the border.
“During the transshipment process, we use an advanced, carefully-sealed device to store the blood sample,” an agent surnamed Zhu advertised on the mainland online forum Tianya.
Zhu suggested that mainland women who do not have a visa for Hong Kong can have their blood extracted in Shenzhen, which is then stored at between 2 degrees C to 8 degrees C and brought to Hong Kong for testing in one to two hours.
Stressing the safe and convenient procedure only in the marketing, Zhu does not say how the blood is carried into Hong Kong.
Cross-border transshipments of blood samples would normally require a permit in advance but reports suggest that blood samples could be hidden in plush toys or packaged food.
In March, a 12-year old girl was caught at Luohu Port in Shenzhen carrying into Hong Kong 142 blood samples for gender testing. Her heavy backpack caught the attention of customs officers.
In another incident in 2017, a woman was caught smuggling 203 blood samples from the mainland China to Hong Kong.