Preschools across China to be inspected after ‘series of child abuse cases’
State Council moves to reassure anxious parents as police investigate claims pupils were molested and drugged at kindergarten run by RYB Education
China’s cabinet on Friday launched a nationwide inspection of kindergartens to assess teachers’ conduct in a move aimed at reassuring anxious parents after a number of child abuse allegations were made against a Beijing preschool.
There were significantly fewer parents and grandparents than usual dropping off children at the RYB Education New World kindergarten on Friday morning, according to some of the regulars.
Police are investigating reports that some pupils were molested, found with needle marks on their bodies and given unidentified pills at the preschool in Chaoyang district and some of its teachers have been suspended, according to Xinhua.
The allegations are the latest in a series of abuse cases in preschools that have sparked safety concerns among parents. Government agencies have vowed to launch a thorough investigation, while the People’s Liberation Army denied it had ties to the US-listed company that runs the kindergarten, RYB Education.
After the Thanksgiving holiday, shares in RYB opened 39 per cent lower on the New York Stock Exchange than their closing price on Wednesday. Morgan Stanley, the bookrunner on RYB’s US listing, scheduled a conference call on Friday evening for investors and analysts. RYB also announced it would buy back up to US$50 million of its own shares over the next 12 months.
At the start of the school day at the kindergarten in Beijing, parents were outnumbered by the media and security outside the gates. A five-year-old wrapped in a pink padded jacket made her way slowly towards the school with her grandfather. “Let’s go grandpa, let’s go,” she nagged, trying to pull him away until eventually he relented and they turned back.
RYB, which runs more than 1,800 kindergartens and day care centres around China, said in a statement early on Friday it was “deeply sorry” for the concern caused to parents and vowed there would be zero tolerance of any act of child abuse if confirmed. But it also said the kindergarten had filed a complaint to police against unspecified individuals who it says made false accusations, without elaborating.
The State Council said in a statement it had launched a broad inspection of kindergartens following “a series of child abuse cases in multiple places”, vowing to step up checks on teacher behaviour. There were more than 230,000 preschool education providers across mainland China in 2016.
Meanwhile, the PLA moved to distance itself from the kindergarten, with its official newspaper, PLA Daily, quoting retired military official Feng Junfeng as saying there was no link to its management. The head of the kindergarten is a relative of a retired military cadre, but serving officers and their family members were not involved in its operation, according to the report.
Earlier in the day, Beijing’s education commission posted a statement on social media saying it had launched a blanket inspection and review of safety in the city’s kindergartens.
But the statements appeared to do little to reassure parents demanding answers.
“It’s now the third day [since parents were told of the allegations] and there is still no news. At least they should tell us the latest developments [of the investigation],” a father surnamed Wang said.
He had chosen to send his two children to the RYB kindergarten because of its location, reputation and the fact it is a listed company.
“We thought, if they can list on the New York Stock Exchange, it must mean their management, facilities and other aspects are pretty good,” Wang said.
One parent surnamed Zhao, who was at the school with his daughter to collect her schoolbag, said he would not let her return to class until the investigation, which began on Thursday, was completed.
“We want to know how widespread these allegations are, and how many kids they involve,” he said, adding that his three-year-old had not made any complaints to him about the school.
Another father surnamed Li said he had removed his four-year-old from the kindergarten and he knew of a handful of others who had done the same.
“I’m scared – it’s so concerning. If you have kids and have this possibility hanging over your head you can’t sleep,” he said, adding that he did not want to take a chance on the investigation.
“Will they give us the truth? Will they give you [journalists] the truth? I don’t believe that,” he said.
The investigation follows a high-profile child abuse case at an unrelated Shanghai preschool earlier this month, where leaked surveillance videos showed children being physically abused and force-fed by teachers. Two teachers and a cleaner from the school were arrested and are under investigation.
“If this could happen [in the capital] and in Shanghai, there must be more gaps in supervision right across the child care system,” said Wang, the mother of a two-year-old boy.
She said she would consider keeping her son at home to be looked after by his grandparents instead of sending him to a kindergarten next year.
Additional reporting by Alun John