This year, at least four foreign teachers have been arrested in connection with sexual offences involving minors in China, according to a report in the South China Morning Post
. In May, media attention centered on Neil Robinson
, a formerly Beijing-based British teacher wanted for crimes in the UK. In June, an American kindergarten teacher named David McMahon was arrested in Shanghai over allegations of child abuse.
In addition, the media reported that tutors were also suspected of sexual offences against children. A 47-year-old man from California was extradited to the US and is awaiting trial in Washington on two counts of engaging in illicit sexual conduct abroad. The man was identified as Hector Hugo Orjuela, who taught English in Shanghai where he tutored 5-year-old girls. If convicted, he could face a life sentence.
The issue that was highlighted by the SCMP was that cases of abuse by foreign teachers were not reported to the police even though the schools fired the suspects. This resulted in the teachers getting hired by other schools who knew nothing about their history.
How do convicted sex offenders get access to children? Simple: Teachers at the time did not require a background check. In June, Beijing’s Bureau of Human Resources and Social Security stated that all employment license applicants (irrespective of profession) would be required to hand in a “certificate of no criminal record.” However, this only targeted employees applying for a work permit.
When traveling in China with a tourist visa or business visa, civil documents are not a requirement. The “certificate of no criminal record” falls under the latter category. Some teaching agencies employ tutors with just a business visa, which means they don’t have to undergo a background check.
Another loophole is the court background check approval. According to Gary Chodorow, an immigration lawyer based in Beijing, there are three ways to get a background check certificate from the US: through the police, a court prosecutor, or the FBI. The police and the FBI require the submission of fingerprints; on the other hand, no fingerprints are needed for the court system (only a fee). The FBI requires the applicant to be present, while it tends to be more case-by-case with the police.
The court system in the US has three levels: local, state, and federal. A background check done at the local or state level remains within that jurisdiction. If one commits a crime in one state but moves to another, that person is likely to get a background certificate because there is no record of them in the second state. The Beijing government does not specify which level of court documents is needed for a criminal background check.
In the UK, the background check certificate can only be issued at the national level. In my home country (Kenya), I know that fingerprints must be submitted to national intelligence. If one is out of the country, you have to get fingerprinted at a police station in the country of residence, then mail them back to Kenya.
If a person doesn’t have a criminal record in their home country but commits a crime here, there is no centralized database to check their record. Some companies perform a background check with permission from the employee, while others don’t. The second route is illegal in China and is considered invasion of privacy.
In other words, it’s not enough for parents to ask for a background check certificate. Rather, you should demand a national or federal-level record for all tutors who come to your house. Chinese citizens can also get a certificate from the police, so you should ask foreign and local tutors alike.
Photo courtesy of Brendan Golan Gavitt(Flickr)