Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Extra scrutiny of teachers urged

Extra scrutiny of teachers urged

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Paul Prestidge (left) is detained by authorities in Phnom Penh on Saturday after police were alerted by the British Embassy. Photo supplied

Extra scrutiny of teachers urged

The arrest on Saturday of a registered British sex offender, employed at a Phnom Penh school for the past year, has cast doubt on the screening of foreign nationals working with children in Cambodia.

With wanted sex offender Paul Prestidge’s extradition pending, the British Embassy yesterday issued an online reminder about the worldwide mechanism for intercepting UK child-sex offenders seeking employment overseas: the International Child Protection Certificate (ICPC), introduced in 2013.

However, children’s rights groups say such measures alone are insufficient to address the growing international problem of Western offenders travelling with impunity to countries where child-protection laws are weaker.

“We must acknowledge that the UK is responsible for exporting child abusers,” said Bharti Patel, CEO of the UK-based child protection NGO ECPAT, who notes a documented increase in British nationals convicted of sex offences against children abroad.

“The failure to manage UK sex offenders is shocking … We would like there to be more sharing of intelligence on high-risk individuals between agencies within and across borders.”

Prestidge, who previously served three years in prison on child-pornography-related charges, had been wanted in the UK since illegally travelling abroad in 2010, and was arrested last week after the British Embassy in Cambodia alerted immigration police to his presence in the country in September.

Prestidge, who was employed as a teacher at Hope International School, is the fourth foreign teacher to be arrested on child abuse charges in Cambodia this year. While endorsing the ICPC and other international intelligence-sharing initiatives by foreign embassies, local child protection authorities say the onus lies with individual employers to undertake due diligence.

“It is the responsibility of schools to step-up their efforts and demand screening of local and foreign staff,” said James McCabe, director of operations at the National Police’s Child Protection Unit. “There is no excuse for a modern, allegedly wealthy school failing in some of the most basic child protection measures.”

McCabe explained that the government is working towards risk-management strategies in conjunction with embassies, but that no national policy exists to enforce background checks in schools or other institutions working with children.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Education, Ros Salin, said state schools only hired foreign teachers under agreements with foreign governments or NGOs, and that it was up to private education providers to administer their own screening policies.

Organisations reliant on international funding are ordinarily bound by such policies on the part of their donors. However, Prestidge’s prolonged employment suggests that staff remain unpoliced in Cambodia’s numerous local education providers, provoking serious concern among child-rights NGOs.

In acknowledgment of the lure of developing countries to foreign sex offenders, the social welfare NGO Friends International founded Childsafe, a global child protection scheme that encourages businesses and organisations to institute socially responsible practices.

“Schools, universities and educational establishments should be safe places for children and young people,” said Friends’ James Sutherland. “Incidents such as this underline the crucial importance that in all such establishments, comprehensive child protection policies must be in place . . . including background checks.”

Hope International School declined to comment on whether the organisation conducted any such checks, but an employee from another reputable Phnom Penh school, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said yesterday that often local operators posing as Western-style schools shirked such responsibilities due to the cost.

However, staff from a number of other well-regarded international schools, including the Canadian International School and International School of Phnom Penh, confirmed that they conducted background checks on all employees.

The British Embassy did not respond to questions about any possible investigation into offences committed by Prestige in Cambodia or when they became aware of his presence in the country.

A previous version of this article incorrectly spelled the name of the man arrested as "Paul Prestige". It is actually "Paul Prestidge". The Post apologises for any confusion.

MOST VIEWED

  • Stock photo agencies cash in on Khmer Rouge tragedy
    Stock-photo companies selling images from S-21 raises ethics concerns

    A woman with short-cropped hair stares directly into the camera, her head cocked slightly to the side. On her lap is a sleeping infant just barely in the frame. The woman was the wife of a Khmer Rouge officer who fell out of favour, and

  • US think tank warns of China's 'ulterior motives'

    A US think tank on Tuesday warned that spreading Chinese investment in the Indo-Pacific follows a pattern of leveraging geopolitical influence at the expense of the nations receiving investment, including Cambodia. The report looks at a sample of 15 Chinese port development projects, noting that the

  • Defence Ministry denies weapons in smuggling case came from Cambodia

    After a Thai national was arrested last week for allegedly smuggling guns from Cambodia to Thailand, Cambodia's Defence Ministry has claimed the weapons seized during the arrest are not used in Cambodia, despite the fact that both types of rifle seized are commonly found in

  • Prime Minister: Take back islands from inactive developers

    The government will “take back” land on roughly 30 islands from private companies that have not made progress on planned developments, Prime Minister Hun Sen said in a speech on Monday that also targeted land-grabbing villagers and idle provincial governors. Speaking at the inauguration of the