Check on sex offenders does not go far enough

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 03 May, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 May, 2011, 12:00am


After years of public debate, the government has finally made a small but welcome step to address a very pressing issue close to the heart of parents and educators. Later this year, for the first time, enterprises in fields involving children or mentally incapacitated people can check if their prospective employees have any convictions for sexual offences. Instead of going through the long-running legislative process to establish mandatory checks, an administrative scheme will be adopted as an interim measure.

Under the plan, the prospective employer can call an automatic telephone inquiry system with the police after the applicant has voluntarily submitted to such a check. But the system does not go far enough in that the employer will only be told 'yes' or 'no', without any details of the offence provided. Employers will then be left wondering what to do if the answer is yes. They are either forced to question the applicant further, or judge for themselves it they should trust someone with an unknown sexual conviction. As expected, those without any records will not find any problem with the system. On the other hand, repeat sex offenders likely to re-offend should be deterred from seeking this kind of employment. The remaining category of job seekers will be rehabilitated offenders. When they volunteer for the checks, they are prepared to come clean on their previous offence. Therefore, it would seem awkward if bosses are only told half the truth. Such a neither-here-nor-there approach is more likely to fuel frustration than help the employer determine if a prospective employee is trustworthy. The mechanism also has another inadequacy in that police have no information on offences committed outside Hong Kong. There will be more challenges ahead when the scheme moves onto the next stage to cover areas such as agencies recruiting volunteers, and parents hiring private tutors for their children. The relevant authorities should therefore review the experience during the first phase of implementation and study how best to balance the protection for the vulnerable and the rights of rehabilitated offenders.