Daycare Centers Under Fire After Toddler Deaths

      July 20, 2018 13:05

      An 11-month-old baby died at a private daycare center in Seoul's Hwagok-dong on Wednesday when a carer sat on him.

      The incident came just a day after a four-year-old girl died in a boiling hot minibus in Dongducheon, Gyeonggi Province after being left alone inside for seven hours. The incident has cast a sharp spotlight on the standard of care in daycare centers.

      According to police on Thursday, the caretaker at the Hwagok-dong daycare center put the baby face down, covered him with a blanket, and sat on him with all her weight on Wednesday.

      The 59-year-old woman surnamed Kim, who is 160 cm tall and weighs some 60 kg, even lifted her legs to put more weight on the baby. An autopsy showed that the boy suffocated.

      Kim told police that she tried to put the baby to sleep during nap time. Police have arrested her and will charge her with child abuse and accidental homicide.

      As many as 55 children have died of similar causes at daycare centers from 2012 to July last year, according to data Minjoo Party lawmaker Ki Dong-min obtained from the Ministry of Health and Welfare.

      Lee Bae-keun, the president of the Korea Association for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect, said, "It's natural for toddlers to have difficulty sleeping or eating, and it's wrong for carers to vent their anger at them."

      Several children have died in similar circumstances to the toddler in Dongducheon. Each time, drivers or carers simply failed to check whether all children had got off the minibus.

      Parents naturally worry about whether they can trust daycare centers. The government has tried to revise relevant regulations, but this has proved ineffective and difficult to enforce.

      In the U.S. and Canada, the driver of a school bus is obliged to check all seats before turning off the ignition. Experts stressed the need to strengthen safety education for daycare center staff.

      In theory, local authorities can shut down or suspend daycare centers for six months to a year if they inflict serious physical harm or emotional distress on children. But they rarely receive a heavy penalty because it is difficult to prove malicious intent.

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