[March 21, 2014]
BEIJING (Reuters) — China
has launched a nationwide inspection of schools amid rising public
anger at revelations that many educational institutions secretly
gave children medicine to ward off illnesses and boost attendance,
state media said on Friday.
No deaths have been reported, but food and drug
safety for toddlers is a highly sensitive issue in China after at
least six children died and thousands were sickened in 2008 from
drinking milk contaminated with melamine, an industrial chemical.
Local governments have been ordered to inspect schools and
particularly kindergartens, to check if they were illegally
administering any medicine, the official China Daily said, citing a
health ministry notice.
A string of reports since last week has revealed that at least six
kindergartens in three provinces gave toddlers a cheap antiviral
drug without informing their parents.
Some kindergartens are said to have done this for years, in a bid to
reduce sick leave and avoid having to pay refunds for the children's
absence. The schools get paid based on attendance.
Parents in the central province of Hubei and the northwestern
province of Shaanxi have taken to the street to demand a thorough
probe and stiff punishment for the offenders.
"We only have one child, and you fed them with a banned drug," read
one banner carried by protesters in photographs published on
microblogging platform Sina Weibo.
That statement reflects a particular anxiety of many Chinese
couples, restricted by strict rules to having only one child.
The government must look into the incidents, tighten management and
prevent similar incidents, Premier Li Keqiang said on Wednesday.
More than 1,000 children received the drug in their kindergartens,
and many suffered abdominal pains and itchiness among other symptoms
that parents fear are side effects of prolonged consumption, state