Inadequate day care services in China for children below the age of three have aroused huge public concern, especially since the exposure of a child-abuse scandal at an in-house kindergarten, which was established by China's online tourist service giant Ctrip exclusively for use by the company's staff.
The maltreatment of youngsters in the kindergarten aroused an outcry for a well-regulated babysitting market.
Currently, only 4.1 percent of new-born children and toddlers in China are able to enjoy day care services, a rate far below the 50-percent proportion common in developed countries.
The insufficient public facilities for the care of the children below the age of three, when they are eligible for admission to a kindergarten, is troubling many parents in a country where both husband and wife commonly work.
"We have no other choice, but to ask the grandparents to look after the child in turns," said a Beijing resident surnamed Liu facing this dilemma.
Besides, some babysitting institutes often prove short-lived due to lack of proper credentials, which, for example, prohibits them from offering food to the children because of concerns over hygiene standards.
According to Liu, there was a day care center near their home, but it soon closed due to its lack of proper certification.
As a result, Liu has little option but to repetitiously search for nannies whose jobs are supervised through the lens of video cameras installed in the home.
"There are few alternatives, but to wait for the child to reach the age of three," Liu said.
A survey conducted by Shanghai Women's Federation early this year showed that about 88 percent of families in the municipality needed babysitting services. It also revealed that the metropolis had about 100,000 children aged two waiting to be admitted to day care centers either publicly funded or privately owned, but who, in total, can only offer 14,000 places.
When China started to restructure its economy during the early period of reform and opening up program, it closed a large number of day care centers affiliated to public institutes in attempt to save social resources. However, following the introduction of the two-child policy, the shutdown has caused a severe shortage of public babysitting facilities.
Despite some people's attempts to tap into the market, unclear regulations among different administrations have impeded the growth of private centers.
"I didn't know which government departments I should approach when I intended to set up a nursery," said a retired kindergarten headmistress surnamed Lu from Shanghai.
According to Lu, in order to open a private day care center in Shanghai, she had frequently run between various government offices, such as the Shanghai Women's Federation and the Health and Family Planning Bureau, only to see all her efforts prove in vain, as the departments told her it was none of their business.
Lacking clear standards for granting permission and supervising day care centers, the qualities of the existing nurseries often prove worrisome.
Yang Juhua, researcher of the National Academy of Development and Strategy of Renmin University of China, said that, during the past few years, China has seen a serious imbalance occur in the provision of day care services, as working families have had to assume a heavy burden, while the government and market have retreated from their indispensable roles.
"It is imperative to incorporate day care services into economic and social development choreographed by the governments at all levels," she said.
The administrations, including hygienic and family planning, education, civil affairs, human resources and social security, taxation as well as industry and commerce, should coordinate to create a friendly environment for nurseries, Yang added.