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Hong Kong jails Chinese 'birth agent'

HONG KONG, February 14, 2012 (AFP) - A Hong Kong court has jailed a woman for 10 months after she admitted helping mainland Chinese women give birth in the southern city, in a decision that was welcomed on Tuesday by activists.

The semi-autonomous city is struggling with an influx of tens of thousands of mainland women who come to Hong Kong each year to give birth, to gain residency rights for their children and to circumvent China's one-child policy.

Authorities have stepped up enforcement amid outrage in Hong Kong, with local women taking to the streets to protest the influx which critics say has led to a shortage of maternity beds in hospitals.

In the first prosecution of its kind, mainland woman Xu Li was sentenced to 10 months in jail by a Hong Kong magistrates' court Monday over her role as a "birth agent", court officials confirmed to AFP.

The 29-year-old has pleaded guilty to one count of breaching her conditions of stay, which bars her from carrying out business activities, and another offence of making a false representation to an immigration officer.

"We welcome the ruling," campaigner Christine Chan told AFP. Chan is the spokeswoman of a popular Facebook campaign set up to protest against mainland women giving birth in Hong Kong.

"The judge sent a very strong message that agents who encourage pregnant mainland women to wait until the last minute and then force their way into Hong Kong emergency wards are endangering others' lives.

"We're not sure whether this sentence will deter others, so we urge the authorities to remain vigilant in their enforcement," Chan said.

Xu was arrested on January 15 at a Hong Kong-China border checkpoint as she was about to enter the city while accompanying a heavily pregnant mainland woman.

The court was told Xu started helping pregnant mainlanders in 2010 by arranging pre-natal check-ups in Hong Kong, booking delivery services and hostels, and arranging care for women and their babies following births.

She reportedly charged from several hundred to several thousand yuan to help a pregnant mainlander give birth.

The influx of pregnant mainlanders has been a major source of recent tensions between Hong Kongers and mainland Chinese, 15 years after the British colony was returned to Chinese rule.


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