New plan to deal with sexual offences at schools in SA

A new plan to deal with sexual predators in schools has been agreed upon.
A new plan to deal with sexual predators in schools has been agreed upon.
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A collective agreement reached with teacher unions is going to change how sexual offences will be dealt with at schools in South Africa‚ closing a loophole exploited by paedophiles or sexual predators.

The agreements‚ welcomed by the department of basic education‚ were presented to the portfolio committee on basic education in parliament on Wednesday.

The department said the most important agreement was Collective Agreement No. 3 of 2018‚ which provides a one-stop process to replace the department’s internal disciplinary hearing and prevent a child from having to testify multiple times and go through secondary trauma.

Up until the agreement was reached‚ there were three platforms available to learners who were witnesses to‚ or victims of‚ sexual misconduct: internal disciplinary hearings by provincial education departments‚ the South African Council of Educators’ (SACE) investigative processes and the Education Labour Relations Council arbitration process - in the event a teacher referred a dispute to the bargaining council.

The department said the previous processes meant a learner had to testify before all three forums. Up until now‚ children and parents were reluctant to testify due to the secondary trauma that learners would be subjected to.

“This resulted in the absence of witnesses in many instances and the lack of evidence for employers to act on. Due to this‚ sexual offenders would often be reinstated through the Education Labour Relations Council arbitration outcome and the teacher would not be struck off the roll of educators by SACE.”

The department said this created a loophole for paedophiles or sexual predators to re-enter the sector.

“This one-stop arbitration process will replace the department’s internal disciplinary hearing. And there will be a special panel of suitably qualified and experienced arbitrators to deal with these matters related to sexual misconduct between learners and teachers.”

The department said intermediaries had been appointed and trained to aid child victims or witnesses to give evidence at a special venue such as the Children’s Court. Two-way mirrors would be used. Judgment of the arbitration tribunal will be final and binding and have the same status as an arbitration award under the Labour Relations Act.

“The Department of Basic Education is confident that these improved measures will close gaps in processes and ensure that sexual predators are not able to operate in schools‚” the department said.

The department said the bargaining council had also partnered with the police to ensure that the names of people involved in sexual offences with children were registered.

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