Why pregnant Chinese women are smuggling their blood

Why pregnant Chinese women are smuggling their blood

Custom officers stopped the middle-aged woman because of her strange, lumbering gait. They searched her and found vials of blood stashed in her bra, according to an official statement. Each one was labeled with a pregnant woman’s name from China.

The passenger was crossing Futian port’s inspection hall, a border post separating the mainland Chinese city of Shenzhen from Hong Kong, on a sweltering Friday in July 2017.

Four days later, they intercepted another woman, carrying what appeared to be a heavy backpack, according to the statement. Again, it was full of vials with pregnant women’s blood. There were 203 of them, wrapped in plastic bags. Because of the heat, the blood had started to decay.

Hong Kong officials say the women were mules who admitted they had been paid 100 to 300 RMB ($14 to $42) to carry the sensitive material over the border.

More recently, in February 2019, a 12-year-old girl was stopped at Luohu port, another entry point into Hong Kong, with 142 blood samples hidden in her backpack. “Cross-border students basically don’t bring anything other than books, stationery and snacks, so their schoolbags usually look lean. But we saw that hers looked so full that it might burst, so we scanned her bag,” said a Luohu port staff member quoted by China’s state-run People’s Daily.

Blood smuggling to Hong Kong from mainland China, where sex testing is forbidden, has increased sharply over the past three years. The samples are sent to Hong Kong clinics to be tested for fetal DNA, which allows the future parents to find out the sex of their child.

Demand for China is strong. Despite the partial lifting of the one-child policy, many Chinese couples are opting to only have one baby, and when they do they want it to be a boy.

Vials hidden in stuffed animals

Desperate to find out whether they are having a boy or a girl, Chinese parents turn to intermediaries offering to send a blood sample across the border into Hong Kong to have it tested. Dozens of agencies offer this service on Weibo, a Chinese microblogging site similar to Twitter.

A sales representative for one such company told CNN that “women can start testing when they are 6-7 weeks pregnant.” The agency, which CNN approached by contacting the WeChat account listed on its Weibo page, asks only for an ultrasound proving the pregnancy has reached the adequate stage and a blood sample.

“The woman can go to the hospital or ask a nurse to come to her home to draw blood,” the representative said.

The pregnant woman is encouraged to hide the vial inside a plush animal or within boxes of packaged snacks, to avoid detection, and mail it straight to Hong Kong using the postal service. “We no longer hire manual couriers,” the agent added. “It is too risky, as the government has cracked down recently on our activities.”

The company, which has over 380,000 followers on Weibo, charges 3500 RMB ($490) for its services and the test takes about a week. It is carried out by a lab based in a remote part of Hong Kong, according to the agent, who CNN spoke to via WeChat messaging.

China’s Population and Family Planning Law banned gender testing in 2002, to prevent a widening of the country’s gender imbalance. In this country of 1.4 billion people, men outnumbered women by 32.7 million at the end of 2017, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.

Under China’s one-child policy, which limited parents to one child, sex-selective abortions became widespread in the hope of securing a son — from 1970 to 2017, this prevented 12 million girls from being born, according to a study published in May by National University of Singapore researchers.

The policy against having multiple children was partially scrapped in 2015, but many parents still forgo having more than one child because of the cost involved.

To get around the local ban on sex testing, some couples started sending blood samples across the border, into Hong Kong. This is illegal, with China’s National Health and Family Planning Commission issuing