Pushing small children to the ground, force-feeding them spicy wasabi as a way of punishment… the physical abuses at a daycare center run by Shanghai-based online-travel company Ctrip for its employees enraged Chinese netizens after secret surveillance video footage of the abuse went viral last week.
The teachers were detained under criminal charges, and the daycare center has been shut down. But the underlying fundamental problem behind the scandal may take years or longer to resolve.
If anything, the video reveals the dire shortage of licensed childcare facilities in China, even in first-tier cities, such as Shanghai and Beijing. In fact, Xi Jinping, general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, mentioned this problem in his report last month to the 19th CPC National Congress.
Xi asks steady progress to be made in ensuring people’s access to childcare so as to ensure and improve people’s living standards.
According to research conducted by Cui Yu, former vice chairman of the All-China Women’s Federation, the enrollment rate of 0 to 3 year-olds in daycare is only 4.1 percent in China, far lower than in developed countries, where the rate averages 50 percent.
In Shanghai, 100,000 two-year-old toddlers with working parents desperately require all-day childcare services, and yet the total capacity of local government-run and private childcare facilities is only 14,000, according to statistics from Shanghai Women’s Federation.
This massive shortage has led some companies such as Ctrip to take matters in their own hands, opening their own private daycare centers for employees as a special benefit to help working mothers find a work-life balance.
However, such well-meaning projects do not necessarily have good results. The difficulty of obtaining licenses, hiring professional teachers and the lack of third-party organizations qualified to run these centers are all serious problems that have led to reprehensible incidents such as the Ctrip scandal.
Although the number of kindergartens in China reached 240,000 in 2016, and despite the fact that 77.4 percent of all preschool-aged Chinese children attend kindergarten, most of these kindergartens are only allowed to admit children three years of age and older.
Liu, a Beijing resident, was rejected by several public kindergartens just because his child was a few months short of three years at the time the kindergartens were enrolling students. Liu had to send his son to a private nursery in his neighborhood. However, just a few months later, the school folded due to a lack of qualifications.
“We could only ask his grandparents to take care of the child, and hire a nanny for other times. We have to wait until he reaches three years old,” Liu told Xinhua News Agency.
China’s new two-child policy, introduced in 2016, has aggravated this dilemma for many parents. “The old one-child policy lowered China’s need for childcare facilities, and for a long time the shortage didn’t seem to have a big impact,” Yang Juhua, a professor at the population development studies center of Renmin University of China, told Xinhua.
“But with the implementation of a two-child policy and the change of family structure, China’s childcare crisis is increasingly prominent,” she said.
While grandparents remain the most popular, trusted and preferred form of childcare in China, different approaches to early childhood development between traditional elders and their more modern offspring often lead to clashes.
For instance, Chinese grandparents are known to dote on children, which has directly led to China’s soaring obesity rate not to mention the “Little Emperor” (a term referring to spoiled children who gain excessive amounts of attention from their parents and grandparents) phenomenon.
Thus, caught between a lack of professional educational facilities and letting their children become fat and entitled under the watch of grandparents, many Chinese parents are opting out of having a second child, despite government encouragement.
According to research by the All-China Women’s Federation in 2016, which polled parents in 21 cities in 10 provinces, 53.3 percent said they have “no intention” of having a second child, with “no one to care for their child” being the major reason.
This is also forcing some mothers to give up on their jobs and stay at home to take care of their young children.
For Li Jiangning and his wife, both white collar workers in Beijing who originally hail from Henan Province, asking their parents to move from Henan to live in their tiny apartment in Beijing just to take care of their baby wasn’t realistic. The couple spent a month scouring for a proper childcare facility in Beijing, but were either rejected by public kindergartens due to being underage or scared off by the hefty prices of private childcare facilities. His wife had to resign to take care of their baby, according to newspaper Health News.
No department responsible
Apart from the strict age limit set by public kindergartens, the lack of private players in the childcare market is another issue that has caused the childcare shortage.
Lu, a retired principal at a Shanghai kindergarten, was frustrated by the complex and lengthy bureaucratic procedures she had to go through in order to open a certified childcare school with a private education organization.
After her application to local education authorities for a license received no response, she then applied through the Women’s Federation and the family planning commission of Shanghai, both of which told her they “had no right” to approve the application.”No department can issue the license. No department is responsible for the supervision and management. I want to open a childcare school, and yet I don’t know which government organization to go to,” she said after six months of effort landed her right back where she started.
According to China’s education authorities, preschool education officially starts at three years of age. The schooling of 0 to 3 year-olds, therefore, is “beyond the rights” of local authorities, which is why they have stopped issuing childcare licenses.
Childcare facilities that are unable to obtain licenses from local education authorities can only turn to commerce authorities and apply for “education consulting” licenses.
This, however, does not grant them the qualification to provide meals for children or offer daycare services. The complicated progress discourages private organizations from setting foot in the childcare sector.
In the case of Ctrip, the company initially intended to run the daycare center itself, including hiring its own teachers. However, local authorities said they would have to shut it down due to the lack of qualifications. Ctrip then hired a third-party organization, claiming to have qualifications and claiming it was recommended by the government, to run the center. It turned out the organization wasn’t at all qualified.
Zhang Jinhua, the principal of a private nursing school in Nanjing, Jiangsu Province, has been working in the childcare industry for over 10 years. Her school now has three classes with children aged from 13 months to 3 years old.
“It isn’t easy to open a childcare facility. You need a big investment in the facilities and for recruiting workers. Compared with kindergartens, it’s more difficult for childcare facilities to survive,” she told Health News. For example, while the government provides subsidies for the land use of kindergartens, childcare centers do not enjoy this benefit. Zhang has to pay 280,000 yuan ($42,162) every year for her 300-square-meter center.