24 October 2017
Escalating reports of sexual assaults on minors at schools highlights the need for thorough vetting on all personnel linked to schools. This follows an overwhelming number of reports in recent weeks of alleged and confirmed cases of molestations and rape against school learners across the country.
Managed Integrity Evaluation (MIE), CEO, Ina van der Merwe, says: “We cannot overlook the terrible travesties that have befallen the affected children. And, in certain instances, these cases might have been prevented altogether, if the necessary steps were taken, , to do thorough background screenings to verify the identifications and any potential past records of school employees alleged to have perpetrated these offenses against the school learners.”
Following a spate of reports of rape and molestation cases originating from a primary school in Soweto – where a school security guard has been arrested and awaits trial – two cases that implicate a choirmaster and a scholar patrolman at a school in Tshwane, as well as two more cases at schools in Hammanskraal and Bronkhorstspruit; Gauteng MEC, Panyaza Lesufi, has expressed the intent of his department to not only investigate all related cases further, but to also look into remodelling the current process being used to vet school guards across the province.
“This is a fantastic move by MEC Panyaza Lesufi, in promoting the need for stronger policies around employee background screening to be put in place, and which we certainly advocate.” adds van der Merwe. “Every child in South Africa has a Constitutional right of access to education; and with creating access there is also an obligation to ensure that the environment is conducive to safe learning and that the children’s civil rights to safety are not compromised or unnecessarily exposed.”
The recent reports in Gauteng aren’t standalone occurrences. In fact, a school principal, a teacher and a security guard are facing charges after three separate incidences of sexual misconduct were confirmed in September at a school in KwaZulu Natal. And these are just the cases that have been reported on. The ongoing news stories paint a very grim picture on the state of child abuse, which on the surface of these reports, seems to be on the increase.
Van der Merwe suggests that a new approach is needed and key in filtering out the ‘bad apples’, who may do harm, before they are employed into a position where they may have access to pupils and any opportunity to perpetrate such travesties. “Now more than ever, thorough background screening checks on all school employees is essential, particularly if we want to break the cycle and safeguard the persons and civil rights of the pupils.”
“Pushing for thorough background screening checks is the only way to reasonably confirm that a candidate is who they say they are – and to confirm that they don’t have a record of prior criminal or wrong doing activities, that could prove harmful to pupils. Schools and regional Departments of Education should therefore start to invest in digital tools that capture fingerprint for vetting through a trusted background screening company, which will also provide them with the much-needed peace of mind,” concludes van der Merwe.