2017-04-25 06:25:37

A training school for children with speaking and hearing disabilities in eastern China has been closed after a video circulating online exposed teachers abusing children.

The video clip first appeared on a news program reported by the local TV station in Nanchang, Jiangxi province, and was later republished online by Beijing-based startup Pear Video on Saturday. In the video, young children are slapped in the face, their mouths covered with cloths when they cry, and their hands beaten with a stick. At one point, a staff member tells a child he’ll have to eat his own feces if he defecates in his pants. Accompanying the teachers’ cruelty is the constant sound of the helpless children crying.

According to the report, the Nanchang Hope Speech Rehabilitation Training Center was established in 2000, and since 2010 has been included in an official list of institutions endorsed by the Nanchang Disabled Persons’ Federation (NDPF) .

Yu Wenkai, head of the rehabilitation department at the NDPF, told Sixth Tone on Tuesday morning that the teachers caught abusing children have been fired and summoned by police for an investigation. However, Yu added that because the school is privately owned, its principal, Wu Xi, is beyond the disciplinary jurisdiction of the federation.

Nanchang Hope’s tuition fees are between 1,800 and 3,000 yuan ($260 and $435) per month — equivalent to the price of a topflight private kindergarten — and the school receives around 12,000 yuan in government subsidies each year.

In the video, a whistleblower who previously worked at the center informs a reporter of the frequent abuse, saying she quit her job when she could no longer bear the merciless treatment of the children. “Most of the children in the center were only 2 or 3 years old and had hearing or speech impairments,” she said. “They were often beaten and scolded by the teachers — but because they were so young and couldn’t communicate with people normally, their parents never knew this was happening.”

“Newcomers will definitely think it’s cruel to beat the children, but it’s not without reason,” a young, smiling female teacher surnamed Yao explained in the video. “Sometimes they have trouble articulating sounds, and when they cry, they can speak louder.”

“All punishments are for the children’s own good,” another teacher surnamed Chen said from offscreen. “If you are beating children on the first floor, you have to be mindful of whether there are people passing by. If there’s no one around, you can go ahead and beat them.”

It is unclear from the video whether the teachers interviewed knew they were being filmed.

Wu, head of the training center, admitted that the school allows its teachers to beat children. “But you can’t hit their heads, because some of them have devices in there,” she said, referring to the cochlear implants often worn by hearing-impaired students.

The school apparently does not require its teachers to have any qualifications. When an undercover reporter approached the center as an applicant, she was hired after providing only her identification card.

In addition to the physical abuse, a woman identified as Wu’s sister-in-law is seen teaching a child how to verbally belittle other children. “You are stupid,” the woman asks the child to repeat. “I’m the best, and you’re the stupidest.”

On Sunday, Pear published a follow-up video in which Wu said that she would positively reform the center, in part by equipping classrooms with cameras for close monitoring. “But we are also victims,” Wu said, explaining that the teachers occasionally resort to violence when they lose control of their emotions. “The reporter was here for more than 10 days, and she didn’t record any of the sweet or tender moments with the children, but instead focused on the unpleasant moments because they’re more eye-catching,” she said.

Sixth Tone was unable to reach Wu, who is believed to be under investigation by police, for comment on Tuesday.

On Sunday evening, the NDPF posted a statement on microblog platform Weibo saying that the training school had been closed pending reforms, and that they would pursue holding the individuals involved in the abuse responsible. The NDPF added that local police had conducted an investigation into the case and would announce the results of that investigation to the public in due time.

Yu of the NDPF said that before the local media report, they had never heard any rumors about abuse at the training school. “We are collecting parents’ opinions on the case,” he said, adding that while some parents had already opted to transfer their children to other training schools, others wanted to keep their children at Nanchang Hope.

Yu suggested that closing the center indefinitely might not be the best option for the 55 children. “Where will these children go to receive care?” he said. “It’s impossible for other facilities to accommodate all of them.”

Online, net users who were not persuaded by the federation’s official response expressed their frustration. “Close and reform? Then what?” asked one Weibo user. “In cases of child abuse, it’s not so simple as taking the blame and resigning,” wrote another. “They violated criminal law, so they should bear criminal responsibility.”

Corporal punishment of children — and especially disabled children — by educators makes headlines from time to time in China. In December 2016, two kindergarten teachers in the eastern province of Zhejiang were detained after parents found out their children were being beaten. In January, a teacher in northeastern Liaoning province was detained for abusing a 6-year-old boy with speech and hearing disabilities.

Editor: David Paulk.

(Header image: Zhang Yujie/VCG)