Society

Dickensian diet

Kindergarten in Zhuhai has kids on starvation rations

Time to bring in Jamie Oliver?

For breakfast they were treated to a bowl of plain porridge; for lunch it was rice with a few vegetables. If they were hungry in the afternoon, six of them could share an apple. If you think this is the sample menu of a weight-loss boot camp, then you are wrong. It’s the menu allegedly on offer at a kindergarten in Zhuhai.

Mok Bo-chu, who ran the private kindergarten in Guangdong province, was the mastermind behind the “menu from hell,” as the Hong Kong Economic News calls it.

She was detained last week by police for fraud and embezzlement at a children’s nursery school, says the Zhuhai Public Security Bureau. Mok has since been charged, according to Xinhua.

Wu Qingxiu, a former cook at the kindergarten, told Xinhua that he was under orders to spend as little as possible on the childrens’ meals. To save costs, an egg had to be split between four children and “a sausage had to be cut in half and half again,” admitted Wu. The South China Morning Post thought it all reminiscent of Oliver Twist, the Charles Dickens novel, in which the hungry child protagonist holds out his empty bowl and asks for more.

The kindergarten’s former accountant Huang Meimei told police that it spent less than Rmb1 (15 cents) a day on food for each child, although parents paid Rmb210 in food expenses every month.

One parent told Yangcheng Evening News that he couldn’t understand at first why the doctor had said his child was malnourished. “Now I know why my kid always tells me that he’s hungry after he comes home. But they are too small to tell the reason,” the father complained.

Mok denies any wrongdoing. Sheclaims that all the children were given “nutritious” meals that included eggs and meat every day. One teacher that is still working for the school argued that they are hardly the worst in the neighbourhood. “Compared to nearby nurseries, our food wasn’t the best but it definitely wasn’t the worst,” she warned.

Through her lawyer, Mok has already filed a defamation lawsuit, insisting that the accusations are groundless. In the meantime Zhuhai authorities are requiring that the city’s 140 kindergarten publish their menus online. They have also urged kindergarten operators to consider other motivations besides profit.

But the story from Zhuhai has prompted calls for a wider debate on the government’s responsibility for regulating the sector. Deputy secretary general Bian Yufeng of Zhuhai’s Communist People’s Congress admitted to Xinhua that more oversight is needed for private schools.

Sun Cheng, a lawyer in Zhuhai, agrees, saying what happened at Mok’s Creative Arts kindergarten was not an isolated case. The current system for regulating private kindergartens is nonexistent, relying on the operators’ self-discipline.

Netizens do not sound especially surprised. “This being China, as long as there are no serious accidents or large-scale complaints from parents, the government is not going to do anything,” one wrote on Netease.com.

Another commented: “The person in charge (Mok) should be held criminally responsible for corruption charges and the staff who were informed of the situation should have their licences revoked. But then bad people never get punished in China.”


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