11 September 2023
– With sexual offences against children, vulnerable persons and people living with disabilities on the rise, urgent vetting by employers and institutions of their teachers and officials must be intensified says the largest background screening and vetting company in Southern Africa, Managed Integrity Evaluation (MIE).
This comes as provincial government departments focus on a phased rollout of more stringent vetting against the National Register for Sex Offenders. The enhanced action has been sparked by the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act which came into effect in July 2022. The aim of the amendments is to strengthen the fight against gender-based violence and among others, expand the list of vulnerable people.
“A new strategic approach will make an important intervention at schools catering for children with special needs to ensure current and prospective employees are strictly vetted,” says Jennifer Barkhuizen from MIE, a Mettus company.
Various government departments are making use of background screening services to enhance the fight against miscreant teachers and other sexual offenders. The Western Cape and other provinces are also accelerating vetting improvement, notably when it comes to the provision of clearance certificates.
“Sexual offender vetting and the directive in place from the government is aimed at protecting children against predators who work in teaching and childcare, as well as against those exploiting the disabled. In the long run this can also start to protect the elderly and those who are vulnerable and being cared for in institutions such as retirement homes or hospitals,” says Barkhuizen.
She adds that schools are legally required to do background checks on prospective educators and any other prospective employees. Since 2019 all new teachers registering with the SA Council of Educators (SACE) had to obtain and submit police clearance certificates, but progress has been slow. It was reported earlier in the year that more than 447,000 educators at almost 25,000 public schools across the country will be vetted against the National Register for Sex Offenders (NRSO) in a bid to remove sexual offenders.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) is responsible for maintaining the Sexual Offenders Register of convicted sex offenders. Justice and Correctional Series Minister Ronald Lamola recently confirmed that the national sexual register for sex offenders is up to date. There is, however, a backlog for clearance certificates caused by the malware attack in 2021. The National Register for Sex Offenders used to have inaccurate and incomplete entries until 2018, when the department upgraded the integrated case management system for the register to include smart functionalities that automatically detect wrong entries.
As a result of the new requirements, the number of educators undergoing criminal checks has grown by 254% since 2019, according to a recent report in Business Day.
According to MIE, despite the more stringent requirements, there are still educators with criminal records. Barkhuizen says the problem is now very much closing this gap – especially for those employed before 2019 who did not need the clearance certificate.
Astonishingly, 50 % more cases of teacher misconduct were noted across all nine provincial education departments in the year ending March 2023 compared to the preceding period, according to the National Professional Teachers' Organisation.
“There is little doubt that the process of checking individuals against the National Register for Sexual Offenders will make an immense difference in removing criminals and predators from classrooms – but the challenge is now ensuring better reporting and enhanced vetting by all schools and government departments if we are to truly end this scourge,” says Barkhuizen.
“MIE has a comprehensive, yet easy to use, background screening and Sexual Offender vetting service that will assist in providing clearance. In this way potential and current employers can check if a person they are hiring has committed a sexual offence to ensure that convicted sexual offenders do not work with children, vulnerable persons or people living with disabilities. It is time society stepped up their efforts to protect children and the most vulnerable – and it starts with a simple check,” concludes Barkhuizen.