Society

The kids ain’t alright

Ctrip faces creche scandal

News of Ctrip’s disastrous daycare services provokes backlash

2017 hasn’t been a very good year for showcasing the teacher-student relationship at some of China’s schools. In April, two kindergarten teachers in Beijing were caught on camera throwing and kicking a child. A month later, a teacher was seen dragging a young girl by the hair across the playground in Dongguan. And then a middle-school teacher in Sichuan was exposed for handing out extreme “corporal punishment” – he was whipping them with an extension cord. ­

Early this month, online travel agent Ctrip found itself in the middle of another media firestorm after footage leaked out from one of its daycare centres in Shanghai. In one video, a female staff member rips a schoolbag from a small girl’s back and hurls it to the floor before pushing the child forward, causing her to fall and hit her head against a desk. In another, a child cries audibly after being forced to eat something that was later discovered to be wasabi.

“My daughter is only 17 months old and you fed her half a tube of wasabi in half an hour… she pooped six times in an hour!” one parent fumed after watching the surveillance footage. The daycare centre in question is part of the Shanghai headquarters of Ctrip, the country’s leading online travel agency.

The facility – designed for children from 18 months to 3 years – was established in partnership with the local district’s women’s federation in 2016 to provide childcare services for working parents at the company. Before the scandal, it looked after 110 children.

One Ctrip employee told Huxiu, a news portal, that the daycare facility was hugely popular among the working parents. In fact, there was a long waiting list because of the shortage of affordable childcare options in Shanghai. Ctrip staff were charged Rmb2,580 ($400) a month for the daycare, about half the price for a comparable private facility in the city, according to Caixin Weekly.

“Going to work in the morning with my baby and then going home at night with my baby fills my heart with so much happiness,” one staffer wrote about the perks of working at Ctrip before the scandal.

After the videos were leaked, the mood soon changed. A cleaner, a child-care worker and the teacher in charge of the class in question have all been charged with child abuse. The head of the daycare centre was also charged with dereliction of duty and the centre has closed down as authorities start a fuller investigation.

Parents at Ctrip who now need to take care of their children have been offered two weeks paid leave. “On behalf of the company, I extend my sincere apologies to the families and children involved,” said Sun Jie, Ctrip’s chief executive, who is also a mother of three children.

Several parents then came forward to the media saying that Ctrip had tried to cover up the incidents by urging them not to speak to the press. In fact, the management threatened to fire people who talked to the media. And when the videos became more highly publicised, Ctrip put the blame squarely on the third-party operator of the daycare centre, rather than taking more of the responsibility itself.

“Ctrip is the dumbest company I have ever seen. Not only did it offend its clients, it also pissed off its employees. Its crisis management is even worse than Baidu’s,” one netizen wrote, referring to the search engine’s past difficulties over advertisements for dodgy medical treatment on its platform (see WiC324).

Ironically, Ctrip’s daycare facility was touted as a model for other companies. A team of researchers from the State Council’s National Working Committee on Women and Children even toured the centre in April to see how employers were supporting their workers in combining careers and families.

Liang Jianzhang, Ctrip’s chairman, has also been outspoken in encouraging parents to have more than one child in light of the country’s aging population. He’d concluded that a severe shortage of affordable care for toddlers under the age of 3 was part of the problem. He reckons that less than 1% of the children in this age group have access to daycare, which was one of the reasons that Ctrip set up its own facility as a supposed exemplar.

Little did he know that the effort would backfire so badly. “I refuse to support Ctrip. Otherwise it would be like I’m supporting a company that abuses children. A company that isn’t responsible for its employees is not going to be responsible to anyone!” one netizen thundered.

Other critics took aim at the government. For a start, it turns out that the daycare centre was unregistered and had no operating licence. The daycare itself was also outsourced to a third-party service provider called For the Children. The operator is affiliated with the parenting magazine Modern Family, which is owned by the Shanghai Women’s Federation of Changning District – a government-backed institution that advocates the rights of women and children.

Ctrip claims that the Women’s Federation of Shanghai pushed for the partnership to establish a daycare centre for its employees and that For The Children came highly recommended by the women’s federation, says ThePaper.cn.

In light of the cases of rough treatment of children, the government is under pressure to strengthen regulations in the sector. The daycare industry is too driven by the profit motive, said Xinhua, and the government must protect the safety of children. Beijing Normal University professor Feng Xiaoxia agreed, telling Caixin that most day care centres have been operating in a legal grey areas because there are no real standards in areas like teacher qualifications.

The Global Times reiterated the wider problem of insufficient childcare in dissuading families from having more children, despite the partial relaxation of the One- Child Policy. According to research by the All-China Women’s Federation last year, which polled parents in 21 cities in 10 provinces, 53% of respondents said they have “no intention” of having a second child, with “no one to care for their child” cited as the major reason.

In the meantime, Ctrip staff had their revenge on one of the people identified as mistreating their kids. The woman had kneeled in front of them and begged for forgiveness. But some of the parents were so upset that they dragged her around by the hair and made her eat wasabi to give her a taste of her own medicine.


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