Child­care cri­sis

Dire short­age of day­care cen­ters may im­pact China’s ef­forts to in­crease birth rate

Global Times - - Front Page -

Ctrip child abuse scan­dal highlights the lack of child­care fa­cil­i­ties in China, ag­gra­vated by China’s new two-child pol­icy

While pub­lic kinder­gartens do not ac­cept chil­dren un­der 3 years old, it’s dif­fi­cult for pri­vate child­care fa­cil­i­ties to ob­tain licenses in China due to a lack of pol­icy sup­port

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 gov­ern­men­trun 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.

Se­vere short­age

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.

Ed­u­ca­tion doesn’t mat­ter

In the mean­time, some child­care fa­cil­i­ties are be­com­ing no­to­ri­ous for hir­ing un­qual­i­fied if not down­right un­ac­cept­able “teach­ers” due to low monthly salaries and shoddy fa­cil­i­ties.

A search on ma­jor Chi­nese hir­ing web­sites shows that the ma­jor­ity of child­care fa­cil­i­ties only re­quire that their teach­ers are high school grad­u­ates. Some fa­cil­i­ties specif­i­cally say in their ads that “ed­u­ca­tion doesn’t mat­ter” for them.

A num­ber of child­care fa­cil­i­ties even re­quire that their teach­ers have only “lower than high school” ed­u­ca­tional back­grounds, most likely to min­i­mize the salary they’ll have to pay.

An anony­mous ne­ti­zen wrote on pop­u­lar Chi­nese ques­tion-and-an­swer web­site that she was of­fered a monthly salary of only 3,000 yuan when ap­ply­ing for a teach­ing po­si­tion at Ctrip’s day­care cen­ter. She thought it was too low and re­jected the of­fer.

Yang sug­gests the gov­ern­ment in­clude day­care ser­vices into its de­vel­op­ment plans and clar­ify the ex­act gov­ern­ment body that su­per­vises the area.

Some par­ents are also call­ing for more in-house day­care cen­ters, which used to be a stan­dard ben­e­fit at State-owned en­ter­prises and or­ga­ni­za­tions in China.

Since the 1950s, in order to boost pro­duc­tiv­ity and en­cour­age peo­ple to be com­mit­ted to their work, the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment asked com­mu­ni­ties, fac­to­ries and pub­lic or­ga­ni­za­tions to open day­care cen­ters for preschool chil­dren. For many Chi­nese born in the 1970s and 1980s, go­ing to work with their par­ents was a shared mem­ory.

But with the re­form of State-owned en­ter­prises start­ing in the 1990s, these child­care fa­cil­i­ties were steadily shut down.

“Com­pa­nies with ca­pa­bil­i­ties should be given pol­icy sup­port to open in-house child­care fa­cil­i­ties,” Jian Ruiyan, a mem­ber of the Guang­dong com­mit­tee of the Chi­nese Peo­ple’s Po­lit­i­cal Con­sul­ta­tive Con­fer­ence, told Xin­hua.

Photos: VCG, IC

Six chil­dren sit on the ground at an un­li­censed pri­vate nurs­ery in Bei­jing. In the box: Screen­shot from sur­veil­lance video footage shows a teacher at Ctrip’s day­care cen­ter abus­ing a child.

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