Chinese social media openly advertising that Shady middle-men smuggle blood samples of pregnant women; to Hong Kong to skirt the mainland’s ban on gender testing, an AFP investigation has found. The business thrives on a well-organised underground network; but that serves the huge demand for illicit sex-selective abortion in mainland China; due to the  limits on family size and an entrenched cultural preference for sons.

Gender testing except on medical grounds is outlaw in China; where sex-selective abortions have helped create a surplus of about 31.6 million men; with some 115 boys born for every 100 girls last year. A long-standing one-child policy was ease; to permit two children in 2016 but gender testing continues, with many parents of daughters trying for a son the second time around. Upon payment of a deposit, the agent sends a testing kit to the client through a delivery service. One advised using an app to hire a nurse who could come; to the patient’s home in mainland China to extract blood.

Gender testing is legal in Hong Kong, with some clinics apparently turning a blind eye; to the origins of the smuggle samples. Three agents contacted by an AFP reporter posing as a customer offer; to arrange in-person appointments with medical testing labs or transport blood samples; to Hong Kong for around US $ 580, promising results starting from six weeks into pregnancy.

Agents Use Human Smugglers

The client sends the blood sample to Shenzhen from where it is smuggle across the border to Hong Kong. However the agents do not directly address questions about how the samples would be transport; but assure the reporter they would arrive safely at their destination.” But they will be taken to the lab in a designate 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 gender test analyse small fragments of foetal DNA in a pregnant woman’s blood and can detect the presence of a Y chromosome. However they are also use to screen for chromosomal disorders such as Down’s syndrome. They can often accurately predict the gender of a foetus weeks before doctors can see the sex organs in an ultrasound.”I have three daughters already. To be honest I want a son,” a 39-year-old man surnamed Wang told AFP outside a lab in Kowloon where his wife was getting her blood test.

Wang, who circumvent the one-child policy as many well-connect or wealthy Chinese families do, said he was under intense parental pressure to produce a male heir; and had made the journey from the southern province of Guizhou. “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,” he explained.

‘Ethically unacceptable’

According to industry guidelines, laboratory technicians should not test blood without a patient referral from a local doctor; and risk losing their licence if they do. It is illegal to mail or transport blood samples out of China without a permit; but Hong Kong only outlaws importing blood samples if a person has reason to suspect that it contains an infectious agent. A lab that one agent claim to be working with told AFP it does not perform tests; on courier samples and denied working with mainland middle-men.

Hong Kong lawmaker Kwok Ka-ki, who is also a doctor; called on the territory’s government to work with mainland authorities to take down the underground networks. “Ethically this is completely unacceptable because this will only encourage more people to perform gender selection,” he told AFP. “And in mainland China, gender selection has already led to many tragedies and a sudden change in population with more males than females; they are all directly affected, so how can we obey this?”