Beijing police probe nursery over abuse allegations

Police in Beijing are investigating claims of abuse at a kindergarten operated by Chinese pre-school operator RYB Education Inc. PHOTO: REUTERS

SHANGHAI (REUTERS) - Chinese police are investigating claims of sexual molestation and needlemarks 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 (Nov 23) that police were checking allegations that some teachers and staff at the kindergarten, run by pre-school operator RYB Education Inc, 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 students, who were also unclothed, other media said.

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 students were "made to stand" naked in class, media 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.

In a statement posted on its official microblog on Friday morning, RYB said it was taking the case seriously, apologised to parents and said it was helping 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," it said.

The case - and a similar one this month involving a nursery in Shanghai linked to online travel agent - has sparked anger and concern in China about hidden abuses, poor oversight and the lack of qualified teaching staff.

In a commentary, Xinhua said there were "hidden dangers" due to staffing issues and rules not being enforced.

"Why weren't these abuses detected earlier and stopped in time?" it wrote.

A news report on China Central Television (CCTV) on Friday morning showed a video of police and angry parents outside the school in Beijing's Chaoyang district looking for answers.

RYB, which listed in New York in September, says on its website it operates a network of over 1,300 directly owned and franchised play-and-learn centres and nearly 500 kindergartens in around 300 cities and towns around China.

The investigation comes after videos emerged earlier this month of teachers at a kindergarten in Shanghai physically abusing and force-feeding infants.

Chinese education providers have been attracting major investment, while others have been looking for global listings, latching onto fast-rising demand from Chinese parents for high-end education services for their kids.

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