Fatimah: Need for personnel screening, thorough investigation on any suspected case of sexual abuse in schools

Fatimah speaking at the press conference.

By Karen Bong

KUCHING, Aug 17: The recent alleged rape and sexual assault case involving a teacher of a secondary school in Bintulu should serve as a wake-up call of the need to strictly scrutinise and screen those who work in schools or education institutions to weed out sexual predators, while any suspected case reported should not be brushed aside.

Asserting this, Minister of Women, Childhood and Community Wellbeing Development Dato Sri Fatimah Abdullah suggested the federal government implement a policy for mandatory thorough screening of teachers to ensure they do not have past criminal records, especially for sexual offences. 

“In schools or education institutions of any level, be it public or private, there are not only teachers but other non-teaching staff like security officers. 

“I believe the Education Department can perform background checks on the teachers prior to their recruitment, but I also think it is not easy to detect those without past records and assess those with high risk sexual behaviour,” she told a media conference at her ministry’s office in Baitulmakmur Building 2 today.

As such, Fatimah stressed that when reports are made, it is essential for authorities to take prompt action to thoroughly investigate the case as well as to take every measure necessary to ensure the safety of the young persons or victims. 

“If the case reported cannot be justified, then ok lah. There is no harm in carrying out a thorough investigation rather than just pushing it aside because if the case is genuine, time is precious for actions to be done.

“This is a lesson for all of us. For us who deal with children and young people, prompt actions should be taken whenever a report is made no matter how minor it is in order to ensure the victims’ safety,” she emphasised. 

Fatimah also pointed out the need for all those working with children, whether in the public or private sectors, to implement safeguarding policies. 

Age appropriate sessions, she said, should be conducted for students so they are aware and alert about grooming (the term given to how abusers approach their targets), how to spot danger signs and how to respond or interject to prevent abuse before it takes place. 

“Young people should also be made aware of where to go for help if an adult is behaving inappropriately in any way.

“The Women and Family Department (JWKS) together with SWWS (Sarawak Women for Women Society) will continue to create such awareness on this matter among students with the blessing of the Education Department,” she said. — DayakDaily