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Parents Allege Sexual Abuse At Chinese Kindergarten


China's middle class has grown and prospered in recent years, but its members often worry about the future, their own and their children's. NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports on the latest issue that causes anxiety and anger among parents, a string of scandals that have plagued the country's booming child care business.

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: A young father emerges from the gate of the RYB Kindergarten, where a small crowd of residents and journalists has gathered. The official New China News Agency reports that some parents here allege that teachers have sexually molested or drugged their children or punished them by sticking needles in them. Mr. Zhang, who asks that we not use his first name, says his 2-year-old child was not directly affected.

ZHANG: (Speaking Chinese).

KUHN: "Our child was just attending preschool here," he says. "After these reports came out, we felt we had no choice but to believe they were true. We decided we had to move him to another school as quickly as possible."

The school says it has suspended teachers involved in the scandal. And Beijing police announced on Saturday that they had arrested one female teacher in connection with the case.

ZHANG: (Speaking Chinese).

KUHN: "We picked this school because it was close to our home," Mr. Zhang explains, "and because they had a good reputation as a big franchise."

RYB Education, Inc. runs their franchise's kindergartens and preschools in 130 towns and cities across China. Its shares, which are listed on the New York Stock Exchange, dropped by 37 percent on Friday. Earlier this month, parents uncovered dozens of instances of abuse at a Shanghai kindergarten run by a leading Chinese travel agency. On Friday, China's government ordered a nationwide investigation into all kindergartens. It called for closer supervision and tougher punishment for anyone who abuses children. But experts say that public fury at this scandal reflects a deeper anxiety and pessimism among ordinary Chinese.

HU XINGDOU: (Speaking Chinese).

KUHN: "China's society faces a great sense of insecurity," says Beijing-based economist Hu Xingdou. "Chinese generally don't have to worry about street crime," he notes. "But," he says, "we have no confidence in the future because our social security system is so bad. And a weak rule of law offers little protection for citizens' private property."

Air pollution, food safety scares and official corruption are some of the other problems, Hu notes, that are prompting many middle-class Chinese to emigrate for the sake of their kids. Outside the school, one mother who asked not to be named says she's not just angry about the incident itself but at the way authorities have handled it.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Through interpreter) If they can't tell us the truth, they ought to at least offer some explanation. But up until now, there's been none. I'm just worried that the truth will be suppressed.

KUHN: Some state media have reported on the scandal, but parents say online criticism of the incident has been heavily censored. Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Beijing. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Anthony Kuhn is NPR's correspondent based in Seoul, South Korea, reporting on the Korean Peninsula, Japan, and the great diversity of Asia's countries and cultures. Before moving to Seoul in 2018, he traveled to the region to cover major stories including the North Korean nuclear crisis and the Fukushima earthquake and nuclear disaster.