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2020-04-23 11:36:40

Authorities in Shanghai are investigating the death of a 3-month-old child. According to a report Wednesday in Sixth Tone’s sister publication The Paper, the infant’s death may have resulted from a sleeping technique promoted in an online parenting group.

A blogger using the handle “Cheese Wonton” had instructed the group’s members — some of whom paid 1,000 yuan ($140) or more to join — to follow her “face-down sleeping technique” to give their children better sleep quality, according to the media report. Screenshots of messages posted by the deceased infant’s mother in the platform’s online chat group suggest the technique may have led to the baby’s death.

The Shanghai Administration for Market Regulation told The Paper it is investigating the case, and that the company under which Cheese Wonton operates “does not include pre-education in its business scope,” suggesting the blogger was not authorized to lead a paid parenting group.

Cheese Wonton has denied that the baby’s death was linked to her parenting tips. According to media reports citing a post on her now-deleted Weibo microblog, Cheese Wonton said she had cautioned the parents about the technique’s risks, including suffocation.

However, a former member of the group accused Cheese Wonton of misleading her clients and actively encouraging the face-down sleeping technique. The member added that the group’s other leaders would “brainwash” parents into following their tips.

“I think moms, including me, are just too anxious,” the member told The Paper. “It’s impossible to always put the baby to sleep, whether day or night — it can lead to an emotional breakdown. That’s why we sought help (from the group).”

Pediatricians advise against letting babies sleep face-down due to the risk of suffocation.

Zhang Jiawei, a lawyer at Shanghai Shenya Law Firm, told Sixth Tone that Cheese Wonton could face charges of illegally operating a business.

“According to the company’s business registration page, its business scope does not include anything related to child-rearing,” Zhang said. “Therefore, they (the group leaders) are not qualified to practice so-called infant sleep training.”

In recent years, the Chinese internet has seen a boom in so-called mama media platforms peddling parenting and child-rearing tips to new or expecting parents. According to a report by consulting firm iiMedia Research, the number of users on China’s early childhood platforms is expected to reach 230 million this year.

Experts say such sites aren’t always reliable.

Liu Kun, the founder of a platform called Super Early Childhood Education Experts, told Sixth Tone that incidents like the infant’s death reflect a darker side to China’s entrepreneurial online platforms hoping to make a quick buck.

“The market for child-rearing platforms is a mixture of good and bad,” said Liu, who has a doctoral degree in preschool education. “Although some have professional theoretical backgrounds and social responsibility, a large number have neither professional knowledge nor experience.”

According to Liu, many operators of these platforms opt to take crash courses for certifications in order to come across as authentic service providers, which Liu says is “harmful to society.” She added that such businesses also tend to focus heavily on marketing, while providing little science-backed information to their members.

“Child-rearing platforms directly target parents and children, and need stricter supervision and regulation,” said Liu. “Things as serious as education require special caution — it’s not something that just anyone can do.”

Editor: Bibek Bhandari.

(Header image: Moment/People Visual)