Police cover up or group hysteria? That’s what many people are asking after Beijing police said that they had found no evidence of child abuse at a private kindergarten in China’s capital.
Last week parents at RYB Education’s Xintiandi branch went to the police saying they believed their children had been drugged and sexually assaulted.
They circulated photos of alleged needle marks on their three-year-olds and one family posted a video of a child telling his father he had been given white tablets to make him go to sleep.
Coming so soon after another scandal at a Ctrip daycare centre in Shanghai (see WiC389) the accusations stirred a wave of public outrage.
“If this is happening in Beijing imagine what goes on elsewhere,” wrote one angry Sina Weibo user.
“We used to say don’t let your child lose at the starting line, now we say let don’t let them die there,” another fumed.
China is chronically short of daycare and kindergarten facilities – a problem which could get worse when the first wave of additional “second children” start to appear from 2019 (in the wak of the One-Child Policy being relaxed).
Some 40,000 public and private kindergartens have opened since 2013 but the ratio of pupils to teachers has increased from 5:1 to around 11:1, according to statistics published by the Ministry of Education.
In first-tier cities middle class families often pay upwards of Rmb5,000 ($755.83) a month for pre-school education. Even then, finding a place can be hard and often a parent or grandparent stays at home to care for the child.
The situation is worse for childcare facilities for the under threes – which operate in a legal grey area because there is no formal licencing process. Instead the childcare providers are often classified as “education consultants” but are not technically supposed to provide food or physical care.
RYB Education – the firm accused in the latest scandal – accepted babies as young as two-and -a-half months at its 1,300 daycare centres; as well as children from three to six years-old at its 500 kindergartens. The company, which operates in 300 cities, listed on the New York Stock Exchange in September, with its share price rising 40% on the first day of trading.
Analysts explained the sharp stock increase by pointing to the huge demand for decent pre-school care and early education.
Following the allegations the share price plunged nearly 40% in one session (to more than $2 below its IPO price), forcing RYB to carry out a $50 million buyback. (A class action suit by aggrieved US shareholders was also proposed, although RYB quickly rebuffed its merits, pointing to the risk factors about its teachers in its prospectus.)
A week after the initial story emerged, the situation remains far from clear.
A 22 year-old teacher has been detained, and the kindergarten’s principal has also been fired. But an interim report issued by the police on Tuesday said doctors believed the alleged needle marks were actually eczema and that there was no sign that children had been physically or sexually abused.
It added that two women, not connected to the families of the affected kids, had been arrested for “spreading rumours”, while two of the parents had apparently admitted they had “made up” the stories about white tablets and naked health checks.
Most of the public isn’t convinced, however. It is questioning why the school’s surveillance camera had failed and why the accused teacher was still being detained if no signs of abuse were found.
“How do we know the parents weren’t coerced into saying they had made up the stories?” asked one.
“If the investigation results are true, why are you censoring our comments so much,” another queried, after thousands of comments had been taken down.
Others pointed out that the so-called 50 Centers seemed to be out in force (these people are paid that amount per pro-government post they write on social media).
“Great job Beijing police,” wrote one of the suspected stooges online.
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