Insight | Many ‘blue cards’ have no other home, but are treated like coolies

Paulo Barbosa

In a move seen by many as discriminatory, the public hospital Conde de São Januário (CHCSJ) has proposed that the service fee of natural childbirth for non-local workers to be increased from the current MOP975 to MOP8, 775. The price hike is even higher for tourists, with the cost of a natural delivery increasing from MOP1,950 to MOP17,750.

The Health Bureau’s justifications for implementing the measure were not very convincing. Claiming that the CHCSJ’s antenatal and delivery charges had not been updated in nearly 20 years, the bureau said the updates “were not intended to increase its financial revenues, but to ensure provision of quality services for residents.”

The new charges for non-residents will still be “just half the market price,” although citizens are left to wonder how this “market price” is calculated. The price remains unchanged for residents.

Is there really a need to introduce a brutal nine-fold rise for parents who may not have large financial resources, particularly during a demanding time for family budgets such as the first months of parenthood? Besides, many non-resident mothers probably do not have the familial structure or the will to give birth in Macau.

If there is a problem with ensuring that residents have access to “quality services” in the maternity ward of the central hospital, then the Health Bureau should have presented figures that reflect such a problem. It occurred in Hong Kong some years ago, where mainland tourists flocked to emergency rooms to give birth, hoping that their child would be granted residency, until former HKSAR chief CY Leung opted for a “zero tolerance” policy.

However, the figures presented by the Health Bureau do not reflect the existence of a problem with non-resident births. From 2015 to 2017, an average of 3,371 babies were born yearly at the Conde S. Januário Hospital; 8 percent of them were delivered by non-resident women and 20 percent by tourists. According to data released last week, in 2017 a total of 6,529 live births were delivered in Macau, down by 617 year-on-year. Our maternity wards are less busy than they were.

Regarding tourists, I do not see why the charges were not increased before, although such a surge in prices is hardly justifiable as a preventive measure. “The update also took into account the mainland’s ‘two-child policy’, which might eventually lead to a greater number of women with non-resident or tourist status giving birth in Macau,” the Health Bureau stated, but did not elaborate.

Yet to charge non-resident workers so much more is a completely different matter. As lawyer Sérgio de Almeida Correia pointed out to the Times earlier this month, “unfortunately, it seems that we are on the right track to have in Macau a selfish society with new kinds of apartheid, since it also seems that we are building a highly xenophobic society.”

Discrimination in Macau is worsening, thanks to the tendency to establish countless legal differences between permanent and non-permanent residents  – when the only initial difference was the right to vote – and the establishment of a huge gap in rights between these and the “blue card” holders. It seems there are first- and second-class citizens, and then some others who are treated like coolies.

The term “non-resident worker” was badly penned. We all know cases of non-residents who are born here but are denied residency simply because their parents, who already resided here, did not have a local ID. Many non-residents know no other home, yet they face discrimination from birth. Private schools here charge non-local students the “market price” for fees – around twice what locals pay. The difference between these “non-local” students and “local students” is the fact that the latter possess a Macau ID.

Once again, the government is not setting a good example in a city with deep multicultural roots.

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