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Real culprit behind Ctrip day-care center's child abuse scandal
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A video clip showing kindergarten teachers roughing up toddlers and force-feeding them mustard is making rounds on China's social media, incurring widespread public wrath. It is reported by Chinese media the child abuse incident happened in a day-care center in Shanghai, which is funded by Ctrip, one of the top Internet companies in the country.

From the surveillance video, people can see a teacher in the center taking off a child's coat and shove her to the ground with the little kid's head knocking on the edge of a chair; in another video clip, a teacher forces children to swallow some green paste which is later proved to be mustard. All children burst into tears after eating it.

Ctrip has called the police and get four staff of the center arrested, with one of them being the head of the center. Shi Qi, the vice president of Ctrip, told the press three teachers detained by the police were found to have beaten or force-fed the children mustard, based on five-days' surveillance video. And the center has already been temporarily shut down.

Over the years, multiple high-profile abuse cases committed by childcare providers have come under the national spotlight in China. The Ctrip case may be especially attention-grabbing because the victimized children are from urban middle-class families.. One of the most liked online comments about the incident mocked, “I'm working hard at work while you're forcing my baby to swallow mustard,” while a local media ran an opinion piece titled “No matter how powerful you've become yourself, it's still hard to prevent your child from being ill-treated.”

Some Chinese media tried to dig deeper into the case, and they found that Ctrip - the company that has been heavily criticized by netizens for failing to regulate the operation funded by its money - may turn out to be just a scapegoat. Ctrip, one of the largest online ticket agents, built the day-care center at the end of 2015 in bid to help lighten the burden of its employees who have under-age children for kindergartens.

In China, public kindergartens would only take in Children above three years old. Although some of them used to provide childcare for babies, in 2012, regulatory authorities rolled out a pre-school action plan, forbidding public institutions to accept under-age children anymore. In first-tier cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Guangzhou, the rule is especially strictly implemented.

Although young parents could still hire help or ask their own parents to help, they're left with not much choices when the cost of baby-sitting has gone up and when their parents could not be counted on for various reasons. On the other hand, allowing all families to have a second child in bid to counter an aging population only makes the situation worse. When public educational facilities fail to satisfy the need, it is summoned that private institutions should step in.

It was earlier reported many educational experts had suggested private companies with related experience, expertise, and good reputation to enter the market. China's government is also encouraging the efforts by granting large amounts of subsidies. And all the elements have worked to divert capital and resources into the sector.

In this case, big Internet companies including Ctrip and JD.com began to set up internal day-care centers in a bid to relieve burdens of both the community and their own employees. In February 2016, Ctrip cooperated with the For Children's Sake Academy to launch the day-care center and meanwhile entrusted the organization with the center's operation. The “academy” is found to be affiliated to a magazine, which is fully owned by the Women's Federation in Changning district, Shanghai, a non-profit backed by the local government, reported xinmin.cn back then.

Ctrip has provided the first floor of one of its office buildings covering an area of 800 square meters, with five rooms of over 50 square meters for activities, and two of over 10 square meters for children's bathroom and several other functional rooms. The whole place is expected to house around 100 children aged 1.5 to 3 years.

However, the conditions failed to match up with the standards set by the Shanghai government. According to regulations posted on the government's official website, kindergartens situated in the downtown area are required to cover at least 6,490 square meters, which is almost impossible for private companies to come up with. So, the Ctrip day-care center didn't get through local educational regulator's verification and was halted only one week after the operation.

Some related studies suggest if rules for market access become too tight, related regulatory departments would get too much power, and those with the “connections” or driven by interest may benefit. This opinion is shared by observers. Fu Weigang, a researcher with the SIFL Institute, told people.cn in an interview that for resolving the problem, we must let the market play a role. However, too high threshold would not be good for common people who are in urgent need of such services.

“Day-care institutions in the neighborhood of where people live or work should not have a high threshold for market access. As long as it is put under the supervision of both the employees and residents, abuse incidents could be largely avoided. On the other hand, too high threshold may lead to corruption (also known as rent-seeking).”

Through a notice posted in June on shanghai.gov.cn, the official website of Shanghai municipal government, the Ctrip day-care center program was officially announced. “Led by the Changning Women's Federation, Ctrip and the Modern Family Magazine have devoted concerted efforts to build the Home of Women and Children—Ctrip Day-Care Center,” according to the announcement.

It was earlier reported that Wang Xiuhong, the chairwoman of the Changning Women's Federation, had said the day-care center has passed inspection to become one of the first batch of Shanghai Municipal Government's practical nursery programs (being implemented).”

Ironically, in merely five months, the center was shut down due to the child abuse scandal.

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