Police Hold Kindergarten Principal in China's Yunnan Amid Sexual Abuse Probe

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Volunteers from a shadow art troupe teaching "left-behind" children, pupils whose parents work for long periods in other cities, how to operate shadow puppets in Handan, in China's northern Hebei province, July 24, 2017.
Volunteers from a shadow art troupe teaching "left-behind" children, pupils whose parents work for long periods in other cities, how to operate shadow puppets in Handan, in China's northern Hebei province, July 24, 2017.

Authorities in the southwestern Chinese province of Yunnan have closed a kindergarten and arrested its principal amid a number of allegations of sexual abuse, official media reported on Thursday.

Police in Yunnan's Zhaotong city have detained the head of the New Hope Kindergarten in Xunlong village, a man surnamed Zheng, amid reports that he committed sexual abuse of children in his care, media reports cited the Zhaoyang district propaganda bureau as saying.

"The kindergarten has been shut down, and the case is still under investigation," the China News Service (CNS) reported.

Zheng's arrest comes after reports of the alleged abuse at the privately owned kindergarten, which has around 40 students, surfaced on China's tightly controlled social media platforms.

A propaganda bureau official said police had moved to detain Zheng after receiving complaints from parents of students on Sept. 2.

Chinese preschools and elementary schools have been hit by a wave of abuse allegations and violent attacks in recent years, prompting repeated pledges from the ruling Chinese Communist Party to improve safety.

In May, China’s Ministry of Education and city-level education officials called for tighter regulation of the preschool education sector and tougher supervision of staff in the wake of allegations of abuse at the RYB New World Kindergarten in Beijing.

Beijing prosecutors indicted a 22-year-old teacher at the school for abusing those in her care by pricking them with needles, because they refused to take a nap.

But state-run Xinhua news agency had earlier reported that police were investigating allegations that children were "reportedly sexually molested, pierced by needles and given unidentified pills."

Parents told RFA at the time that they found the scapegoating of the teacher, identified her only by her surname, Liu, highly suspicious, coming as it did after the announcement that there were "gaps" in the surveillance footage from cameras inside the building.

Widespread lack of accountability

Guangdong-based rights lawyer Sui Muqing said there is a widespread lack of accountability in China that makes it particularly hard to investigate those in power.

"I have found that, once a scandal breaks, the people and organizations responsible, and the departments in charge of them, take a highly biased attitude so as to minimize the fallout to themselves," Sui told RFA. "It's really hard to pursue some wrongdoers."

"I think that this is something to do with the kind of system we have," he said.

The New Hope Kindergarten case isn't the first in Zhaotong, where a teacher surnamed Lu was detained on suspicion of raping several female pupils at Mohei Primary School in Muzhuo township, Xinhua reported.

State media reported that all of the victims were "left-behind" children with both parents working far away in another city. Some 60 million children are currently "left behind" in rural areas of China, reports indicate.

Writer and free-speech activist Huang Meijuan called for tougher penalties in law for the sexual abuse of children.

"The most important thing is that these sorts of crimes carry too light a penalty," Huang said. "I think they don't even get 10 years, which is ... far too low and means that a lot of people aren't frightened off."

"And a lot of people in positions of power like school principals and deputies use their authority to frighten the students, so that they daren't speak out about it," she said.

Last month, a court in the northern region of Ningxia sentenced kindergarten teacher Huang Zhenxin for sexually abusing girls in his care, Xinhua news agency reported.

And in May, Li Jishun, a former primary school teacher in nearby Gansu province, was executed for raping and sexually abusing 26 children at his school.

Figures from the Supreme People's Court in Beijing show a rise in the number of sexual abuse cases to 7,145 from 2012-2014, although no earlier figure was available for comparison, Hong Kong's South China Morning Post reported in August.

Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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