HONG KONG—The death of a two-and-a-half-year-old son of migrant workers at a kindergarten in the eastern Chinese city of Ningbo has sparked further concerns about the mistreatment of children in China, amid a lack of explanation for the death from the school or local authorities.
The body of Gao Chenxi was found in a storeroom at the Tiantian Kindergarten run by the Zhuangshi Neighborhood Committee in Ningbo's Zhenhai district, according to Gao Chenxi's aunt, who asked to be identified only by her surname, Wang.
She said the temperature in the room, which received direct sunlight in the afternoon, reached 60 C at times, and that there were unexplained injuries to Gao Chenxi's face and neck.
"We asked them at the time to explain exactly how our child died," Wang said.
"The child's father barely says anything all day now. His mother lies on his bed all day, crying from time to time, or saying, 'Oh, you've come home, my child. Sit in that chair. Chenxi will come and sit in that chair soon.'"
But no explanation had been forthcoming, she said.
She added that Gao Chenxi, the child of migrant workers from Anhui who came to Ningbo to find work, enrolled in the Tiantian Kindergarten in April, and had frequently reported being hit by his teacher.
"The teacher used to hit the child on a regular basis," she said. "This had already happened. It had been happening all along. But she hit the other kids too; it wasn't just our child that she hit."
Repeated calls to the Tiantian Kindergarten and the local police station went unanswered during office hours Monday.
Beijing-based lawyer Li Jingsong said the school and teacher would find it hard to evade legal responsibility if the police investigation showed that Gao Chenxi had died from mistreatment.
"The first thing [to establish] is criminal responsibility," Li said. "This [could be] a very serious crime, which should carry an extreme penalty."
"On the civil side, regarding compensation, there are two issues of responsibility. One is that of the person who actually committed the crime; the other is of the school, which is responsible as an organization for the safety of the children in its care."
A psychologist surnamed Hu at the prestigious Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) said that children of 2-3 years of age are in a stage of development which does not allow them to accurately assess what is safe or dangerous for them.
They have no instinct for self-preservation, and require close parental supervision, Hu said.
"If a child suddenly has mysterious injuries, at that age they will typically also wet their trousers, or show fear at the slightest sound," Hu said.
"This is a warning sign [for parents] to watch out for [that the child might be being mistreated]."
In recent years, cases of harm coming to kindergarten children have been surfacing throughout China. In Shandong in 2007, a child died from heat exhaustion after being left in a school bus in the heat, while in Jiangxi in 2001, 15 children died in a fire started by a coil of mosquito-repelling incense.
CASS' Hu said many kindergartens only pay attention to formal teaching qualifications when hiring new teachers, and fail to take into account the psychological qualities of the teacher.
"We should provide psychological guidance for teachers working in kindergartens on a regular basis, because they are in contact with a lot of children every day, and they have a very big workload," Hu said.
An employee responsible for education at the neighborhood committee administering the Tiantian Kindergarten said she didn't know how many kindergartens the committee ran, nor the professional status of the teachers it employed.
Zhejiang was one of three Chinese provinces selected in 2006 by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) for a trial program on the prevention of child abuse and neglect following a groundbreaking study that found children at risk of abuse in a number of settings.
The joint program with the All-China Women's Federation was set up to protect children from abuse in school, family, and medical institutions.
Original reporting in Mandarin by Tang Qiwei. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.