China has begun a nationwide probe into safety at its kindergartens amid growing public outrage at the secret medication of pupils by some institutions and a slew of poisonings that has left at least two children dead, state media reported on Friday.
The two children, aged four and five, were reported dead and 30 were still sick after a mass poisoning incident with a toxin used to control rats at a kindergarten in southwestern China,
Investigators in a remote area of Yunnan province said the children had somehow ingested the substance on Wednesday in Qiubei county's Jiajia Kindergarten. However, food served at the school had been tested and found to be safe, according to a statement from the provincial government.
The Yunnan kindergarten wasn't properly licensed, according to state broadcaster CCTV.
Unlicensed educational establishments are a major problem in rural areas, where demand for child-care is huge among migrant work parents, who sometimes live in cities thousands of miles from their families.
Six Jiajia kindergarteners remained in hospital, while the others had been discharged, it said, adding that it wasn't clear whether the poisoning was intentional or an accident.
Local governments have been ordered to inspect schools and particularly kindergartens, to check if they are illegally administering any medicine, the English-language China Daily newspaper quoted a health ministry notice as saying on Friday.
Last week, at least six kindergartens in three provinces were reported to be under investigation for giving toddlers a prescription-only drug to "prevent viral infections." Some parents said they had identified the drug as moroxydine hydrochloride.
A mother surnamed Zhao whose child was given medicine at the Fanglin kindergarten in the northeastern province of Jilin, said parents were reluctant to send their children to local hospitals for testing, for fear that the local government would rig the results of the tests.
Those who had, noticed serious discrepancies between results obtained at local hospitals and those elsewhere, she said.
"It's very hard to find a hospital right now, because the ones in this area have all been contacted [by officials]," Zhao said.
"We suspect that they will fake the results."
Beijing lawyer and child safety campaigner Wang Yu said the forced medication cases were "horrifying."
"They have caused a great deal of harm to the children's health, both physically and psychologically," Wang said.
"We are also mothers, so we are particularly concerned with issues relating to children, and we want to try to do something for children," she said.
Schools are paid based on attendance, and had been trying to boost income by reducing absence through sickness, official media reported.
But Wang said rumors were rife among parents of victims that their children had been subjected to some sort of clinical trial without their consent.
"Why are the parents suspicious? Because the teachers would call up and enquire about the children's reactions to the drugs from time to time, and they wouldn't have done that if it was all about the money," Wang said.
Chinese parents are still reeling for a series of other threats to child safety, including stabbing attacks by mentally ill assailants and sexual abuse by teachers.
Last year, authorities jailed a 62-year-old former teacher for molesting seven second-grade girls and infecting six of them with sexually transmitted diseases.
Reported by Tang Qiwei for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wen Yuqing for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.