Email of the writer: firstname.lastname@example.org
Every day between lunch break and the afternoon classes, I can see dozens of children in school uniforms file into some of the apartment buildings in the housing estate where I live. They spend a couple of hours in one of the many day-care centers run by the residents of the estate, having lunch and a short nap there before attending their afternoon sessions.
These children need a safe and comfortable place to stay through the hours when school is not in session and have their stomachs filled since their parents are too busy working to look after them. Therefore, the number of private day-care centers have mushroomed.
According to official data, as of the end of last year, there had been 613 schools in the city for compulsory education, with a total of 1.18 million students, but only a small number of public schools can provide students with lunch due to a lack of appropriate facilities and qualified personnel. As a result, more than 6,000 day-care facilities have emerged to fill the vacuum. But the actual number could be much bigger, as so many are hidden deep in private homes.
Unfortunately, less than 200 of these institutions have been licensed to operate and only a few actually meet the requirements of the laws and regulations in regards to fire protection, hygiene, health and safety. The majority are unlicensed operators.
This will naturally lead to problems and hazards. Reporters were shocked when investigating some facilities in residential estates in Longgang District last year. In one estate, there were five such facilities, each of which was packed with children. In a 100-square-meter apartment, 48 children were squeezed into five tiny rooms, each measuring about 10 square meters. After lunch, they slept on narrow bunk beds with moldy-smelling sheets and quilts and the whole apartment was stuffy and smelly.
Such a narrow space might turn into a death trap at any time since meals are cooked right in the same apartment.
When inspectors from local authorities were called in, they ordered the owner to stop operation and sealed the place. But the inspectors later admitted that the operation would resume soon despite their supervision, for the parents would protest against the shutdown if hundreds of children were left unattended.
Obviously, the demand for day-care services is there, and that’s why the parents would rather pay at least 600 to 1,000 yuan (US$87-145) a month and tolerate such horrible conditions. They have no better choice. So the policy of denial and ban is against public opinion. The authorities should recognize the reality and adopt more reasonable measures to permit the existence of such facilities and make sure that they are run in accordance with the requirements and standards that related agencies have made.
In fact, in 2009, Shenzhen was the country’s first city to issue an official document allowing the existence of private day-care facilities as long as they meet the requirements made by various agencies. But the document has been showing some drawbacks during its implementation over the past 10 years, including the ownership of the institutions, the application procedures, supervision process and inspection and law-enforcement and investigation and punishment of illegal operations.
For instance, the document requires that such entities be private, nonprofit, and non-enterprise. But this stipulation goes against the Private Education Promotion Law of PRC adopted on Sept. 1, 2017, which encourages the establishment of both for-profit and nonprofit educational institutions.
To further standardize the management of day-care service, the Legal Affairs Office of Shenzhen decided to solicit public opinions and suggestions on an amended document on the management of day-care centers on the WeChat platform on Sept. 6, and enroll 70 hearing representatives.
The amended document will streamline the approval process for applications for the setup of such institutions, which can be for-profit or nonprofit. But more specific requirements will be set to ensure safety, health and hygiene of the institutions. For instance, the minimum space area of each institution must be 83 square meters, and for every 25 children, a minimum of two caretakers must be employed.
For a mega city with millions of parents who are too busy working away from home, nothing is more heartwarming for them than seeing their children in safe hands and feeling at home away from home.
(The author is an English tutor and freelance writer.)