Thu, May 23, 2019 - Page 5 News List

Hong Kong at center of banned China gender test

AFP, HONG KONG

The Hong Kong skyline is pictured from a Star Ferry vessel in Victoria Harbour on Monday.

Photo: AFP

Shady intermediaries are openly advertising on Chinese social media to smuggle blood samples of pregnant women to Hong Kong to skirt the mainland’s ban on gender testing, an Agence France-Presse (AFP) investigation has found.

The business thrives on a well-organized underground network that serves the huge demand for illicit sex-selective abortion in mainland China — driven by limits on family size and an entrenched cultural preference for sons.

Chinese authorities vowed to crack down on the trade in 2015.

However, dozens of blood smuggling agents are openly advertising services on Weibo and on Web sites, despite China’s proven ability to scrub digital content.

Gender testing — except on medical grounds — is outlawed in China, where sex-selective abortions have helped create a surplus of about 31.6 million men, with about 115 boys born for every 100 girls last year.

A long-standing one-child policy was eased to permit two children in 2016, but gender testing continues, with many parents of daughters trying for a son the second time around.

Gender testing is legal in Hong Kong, with some clinics apparently turning a blind eye to the origins of the smuggled samples.

Three agents contacted by a reporter posing as a customer offered to arrange in-person appointments with medical testing labs or transport blood samples to Hong Kong for about US$580, promising results starting from six weeks into pregnancy.

Upon payment of a deposit, the agent sends a testing kit to the client through a delivery service.

One advised using a mobile application to hire a nurse who could come to the patient’s home in China to extract blood.

The client sends the blood sample to Shenzhen, from where it is smuggled across the border to Hong Kong.

The agents did not directly address questions about how the samples would be transported, but assured the reporter they would arrive safely at their destination.

“They will be taken to the lab in a designated vehicle, the samples can be safely sent over for testing, nothing will go wrong,” one representative said, adding that results would be sent out in one working day.

Other agents use human smugglers. In February, a 12-year-old girl headed to Hong Kong was caught at the Shenzhen border carrying 142 vials of blood samples from pregnant women in her backpack.

The tests analyze small fragments of fetal DNA in a pregnant woman’s blood and can detect the presence of a Y chromosome.

They are also used to screen for chromosomal disorders such as Down’s syndrome.

They can often accurately predict the gender of a fetus weeks before doctors can see the sex organs in an ultrasound.

Some Chinese take the legal option of traveling directly to Hong Kong for gender testing.

“I have three daughters already. To be honest, I want a son,” a 39-year-old man surnamed Wang said outside a lab in Kowloon, where his wife was getting her blood tested.

Wang, who circumvented the one-child policy as many other well-connected or wealthy Chinese families do, said he was under intense parental pressure to produce a male heir and had made the journey from Guizhou Province.

“Chinese people still want to have a son to carry on the ancestral line, this is an antiquated way of thinking, but back home there are lots of people who think this way,” Wang said.

He added he and his wife would terminate the pregnancy in China if it turned out be a girl.

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