Gov’t urged to regulate sales of day cares

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Gov’t urged to regulate sales of day cares

After a slew of child abuse cases sent shockwaves through Korea, calls have arisen to rein in the so-called premium payment system, an under-the-table practice that leads to day care centers hiring unqualified teachers to recoup their investments.

These unofficial and undocumented premiums are paid for by people who want to take over the managerial rights of a day care center that is already in business. In short, the payments are financial rewards for day care owners who have a high number of children enrolled at their centers. The higher the number of children enrolled, the higher the price tag for the premium becomes.

When the JoongAng Ilbo visited one day care center in Gangseo District, western Seoul, its owner had put up a sign at the entrance saying that she expects a premium of 170 million won ($157,800) for the sale of the business.

“The owner wants a high premium because the center is near the apartment complex of 400 households,” said a real estate agent in the neighborhood.

Under current law, there is neither regulation on premium payments nor penalty for demanding them. In a study by the state-run Korea Institute of Child Care and Education, 169 out of 552 day care centers surveyed, or 36.7 percent, paid premiums as part of their purchase deal. On average, 2.19 million won is paid per child enrolled.

One child care center with 40 children enrolled in Guro District, southwestern Seoul, is demanding 200 million won as security deposit along with 850,000 won in monthly rent. It is also asking for a premium worth 140 million won.

Yang Mi-sun, director of the statistics analysis team at the child care institute, said that cracking down on the illegal practice is difficult because the agreement is tacit and is not documented by the people involved.

Experts say the high price tag for premiums force center owners to cut back on spending in efforts to recover their investments. And this inevitably affects young children enrolled because centers hire unqualified teachers for low wages or buy low-quality ingredients for the children’s food. The hiring of such instructors could end up in child abuse, like the recent case in which CCTV footage at a day care center in Incheon showed a 33-year-old teacher smacking a 4-year-old girl to the ground for not eating kimchi.

Amid growing anxiety over the qualifications of teachers and the shady payment practice, the public is calling on the government to open more public day care centers because of the high standards demanded in the state recruitment system for teachers.

But demand for an increase in the number of public day care centers often faces strong protest from private day cares, which worry that an increase in such public institutions will put their businesses at risk.

BY JUNG JONG-HOON, SHIN JIN [jkkang2@joongang.co.kr]
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