Last week, the police concluded their investigation into the abuse at the Xintiandi Kindergarten in Beijing, run by RYB Education. They announced that one teacher was responsible for physical ill-treatment of the children, but that there was no sexual abuse or administering of drugs. The two parents who made those accusations issued public apologies.
This outcome has prompted considerable cynicism on social media, with many suspecting a cover-up. However, it is very much in line with what we predicted in our review of the facts of the case. Uncomfortable as it may be, the truth is that the vast majority of abuse takes place within the home, and organized rings are thankfully very rare. And the evidence for the more extreme claims was dubious at best. The overwhelming likelihood was always that this would turn out to be a poorly-trained teacher using physical punishment to help them control the children in their care.
Assuming then that the facts are as the official account suggests, what can we learn from this scandal? And most importantly, how can we reduce the chances of it ever happening again?
We have previously expressed skepticism about whether increased video surveillance will help. In the Beijing RYB case, the video files were corrupted as apparently a member of staff, who slept in the room where the video equipment was kept, found the noise annoying and turned it off after hours. Determined abusers will in any case find ways to avoid being caught on camera.
After the initial shock, attention has turned to the low pay and poor training of many kindergarten teachers. This is not only a problem in China, as costs of daycare need to be kept down so that it remains affordable for working parents. However, if we value our children, then they should not be left in the hands of unmotivated staff who lack the skills to stimulate them and manage behavior appropriately. A balance must be found, and companies making excessive profits should be exposed.
We at beijingkids believe there are two other lessons to be learned from this unhappy affair. It is noteworthy that this is not the first time that kindergarten workers have been found to be punishing children by jabbing them with needles. Given the extreme unlikelihood of any connection between the staff members concerned, it’s not unreasonable to assume that they were using a form of punishment which was used on them in childhood.
Corporal punishment of children is still legal in China, as it is in the US and the UK (except Scotland, where it was banned this year). 52 countries have now outlawed smacking, making it clear that children have the same right to protection from physical assault as adults do. A post we published on the subject caused controversy on social media, and obviously feelings run high on this question. However, given that it is possible to raise happy, healthy, socialized children without hitting them, this writer believes it is better to practice what we preach as parents when it comes to violence. In any culture where inflicting physical pain on children is considered acceptable, there will be differing ideas about when the barrier of acceptability is crossed.
Secondly, the scandal raises questions about what should be shared on social media. The internet can be a very powerful tool for drawing attention to injustices, but because it is powerful it needs to be handled with care. Sometimes the deciding factor in whether we share something is whether it is shocking, not whether it is evidenced or credible. And it is always worth thinking twice before sharing a video of a child in a vulnerable situation, such as disclosing abuse.
It’s good news that the scandal has not turned out to be as serious as it was rumored to be, and children have not come to serious harm. We hope that this can become a turning point, so that children in kindergartens and elsewhere can live free of violence and cruelty.