Update: Guizhou province’s Public Security Department said in a statement Thursday that allegations of sexual misconduct at orphanages and a preschool in the cities of Kaili and Bijie are false, adding that photos and screenshots included alongside the accusations are unrelated to the facilities in question.
Police have taken a man surnamed Zhao into custody for starting the rumor online, and an investigation is underway.
China’s Ministry of Civil Affairs is looking into allegations of sexual abuse at orphanages and preschools in the southwestern province of Guizhou, the Beijing News reported late Wednesday night.
The ministry’s announcement came shortly after local authorities in Kaili and Bijie, the two cities identified in the as-yet unconfirmed allegations, informed reporters that they were aware of the rumors and were investigating their veracity.
Shortly after 6 p.m. Wednesday, an anonymous user of the popular microblogging site Weibo uploaded screenshots of a conversation purportedly between a businessman and a prospective client in which the former offers to broker sexual encounters with underage inhabitants of welfare homes in Kaili and Bijie.
In another set of screenshots included in the same post, two individuals, one of them supposedly an employee of “Fengche Preschool,” discuss drugging a third individual with progesterone, a steroid and sex hormone sometimes thought to temporarily increase breast size.
Kaili’s local education bureau received notice of the allegations at some point Wednesday afternoon but dismissed them as rumors after determining there was no “Fengche Preschool” in the city, Sixth Tone’s sister publication, The Paper, reported Wednesday evening.
Despite being uncorroborated, the claims quickly went viral on Weibo, where the hashtag “Bijie Police Are Investigating Sexual Abuse Claims Involving Orphanages” had already been viewed more than 100 million times by 11 p.m. Wednesday.
Following the declaration by the Ministry of Civil Affairs, Guizhou’s Public Security Department announced in a Weibo post that it had dispatched work teams to oversee the ongoing investigations. “If the allegations prove true, we will firmly handle it according to the law and firmly uphold the legal rights of minors,” the post read. “If they prove false, we will hold the people who spread them legally responsible.”
Editors: David Paulk and Kilian O’Donnell.
(Header image: Moment/VCG)