BEIJING • Chinese police are investigating claims of sexual molestation and needle marks on children at a Beijing kindergarten, the latest case in a booming childcare industry to spark outrage among parents.
The official Xinhua news agency said late on Thursday that police were checking allegations that some teachers and staff at the kindergarten, run by pre-school operator RYB Education, had abused children, who were "reportedly sexually molested, pierced by needles and given unidentified pills".
Parents said their children, some as young as three, relayed troubling accounts of a naked adult male conducting purported "medical checkups" on pupils, who were also unclothed, said other media outlets.
Some parents, who gathered outside the school to demand answers on Thursday, said their children gave matching accounts of being fed unidentified tablets and of punishments where pupils were "made to stand" naked in class, reports said.
The welfare of children in professional care has become a hot-button issue in China, where a string of high-profile cases of abuse has underlined lax regulations and supervision in the childcare and early learning industry.
"We deeply apologise for the serious anxiety this matter has brought to parents and society," RYB said in a statement on its official microblog yesterday, adding that it was helping the authorities.
"We are currently working with the police to provide relevant surveillance materials and equipment; the teachers in question have been suspended and we are cooperating with the police investigation."
The principal of the school had lodged a police report against "individuals who have engaged in false accusations and framing", it said without elaborating.
China's Education Ministry has begun a special investigation into the operation of kindergartens, it said in a statement on Thursday, and told education departments nationwide to "take warning from these types of incidents".
Separate incidents in China of children being slapped, beaten with a stick and having their mouths sealed shut with duct tape have also gone viral and fuelled anger online.
News of the probe into the Beijing kindergarten triggered a wave of outrage on social media, with more than 76 million mentions of "RYB" on Tencent Holdings' WeChat messaging service on Thursday.
"These may be individual cases but the deeper problems they reflect cannot be overlooked," said a Xinhua editorial. "Laws must be enforced, supervision strengthened, teacher wages increased. The childcare industry cannot be allowed to grow in an uncivilised fashion."
RYB says on its website that it runs a network of more than 1,300 directly owned and franchised play-and-learn centres and nearly 500 kindergartens for children up to age six in about 300 Chinese cities and towns.