Nothing is more important to parents than giving their children the best care and protection. They expect schools to do the same and provide a safe environment for learning. Last week, a report renewed concerns about whether sufficient safeguards have been put in place to shield children from sexual predators in schools. Parents of the Hong Kong Academy were shocked to learn that an American teaching in the school in 2008 and 2009 was facing child pornography charges in a US court. The 34-year-old science and maths teacher admitted he had viewed and shared online hundreds of explicit images and videos of children being sexually abused over the past eight years. Thankfully, there is no evidence to suggest the content involved children here. Nonetheless, parents would find the news disturbing and question if due vigilance is being exercised when schools hire teachers.
The case underlines the importance of schools being extremely careful when they recruit. The academy says every potential hire had their references checked. The teacher concerned has no previous convictions, so even a sex offenders' register would not have alerted the school in this case.
But the question of whether there is generally a need for more effective safeguards is a valid one. Against Child Abuse, for example, has made a renewed call for a mandatory register. The voluntary mechanism to be put in place by the government later this year has limitations.
Although enterprises will be able to find out from police if applicants for child-related jobs have any convictions after they have given consent for checking, the system does not cover overseas conviction records. The issue is a complex one, but whatever arrangements are put in place must ensure children's safety is the priority. In the meantime, schools must be vigilant and make every effort to screen out unsuitable candidates.