Abuse scandal at Beijing kindergarten shocks China

November 28, 2017 18:14
Many profit-oriented kindergartens in China are said to pay their faculty meager salaries, and this often results in having teachers of poor quality. Photo: Xinhua

Chinese childcare services provider RYB Education Inc. is embroiled in a child abuse scandal.

At least eight parents have told police their children had fallen victim to abuse and molestation while attending RYB Xintiandi, a private kindergarten in Beijing.

They said their kids had needle marks on their bodies and were made to take unknown white pills to fall asleep, while some of the kids were allegedly forced to strip and even sexually abused.

The scandal has sparked public outrage. A 22-year-old female teacher suspected of involvement in the incidents was detained by Beijing police.

A police statement confirmed that needle marks were found on the children, but did not mention whether any of the pupils had been fed with unidentified pills or sexually abused.

Since it opened in 1998, RYB Education has marketed itself as a premium kindergarten operator. The group runs around 500 kindergartens in more than 300 cities across the country, with nearly 300,000 students.

It was just this September that the company listed its shares on the New York Stock Exchange.

According to local media reports, RYB Education has close ties with some officials of the People’s Liberation Army. The head of RYB Xintiandi has been confirmed to be the spouse of a retired army officer in Beijing.

Meng Liang, a major shareholder of RYB Education, is rumored to be a relative of Meng Jianzhu, a retired politician who served as secretary of Communist Party’s Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission. In November last year, Meng Jianzhu paid a high-profile visit to one of the company's kindergartens in Hainan province.

Monthly tuition at RYB Xintiandi is said to be around 5,000 yuan (US$760). Parents were understandably shocked by reports of abuses in the kindergarten, which they had chosen for their kids despite the high tuition because they had thought it offered quality education.

It was not the first case of alleged abuses at an RYB school. In 2015, two teachers were jailed for physically abusing children at one of its kindergartens in Jilin province.

China’s public school system only covers primary and secondary education. Most children enter primary school when they turn six.

A growing number of private kindergartens have emerged over the past decades as many parents are eager to prepare their kids early for an elite primary school.

Though regulated by the government, most of these kindergartens are profit-oriented. To cut costs and boost earnings, some of these kindergartens are said to be paying faculty members meager salaries averaging around 3,000 yuan a month, and this often results in getting low-quality teachers.

RYB’s New York-listed shares slumped nearly 40 percent after the scandal broke out. The company said some of the accusations leveled against its kindergartens were false, and that some people were trying to frame the company.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Nov. 27

Translation by Julie Zhu

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal columnist