France to pass new anti-paedophile law in wake of nationwide scandal

Following several high profile cases, France is to introduce a new law aimed at tackling child sex abuse at the hands of school teachers, it was announced this week.

The education minister, Najat-Vallaud Belkacem and the justice minister Christiane Taubira announced the law, to be passed in summer, which will force courts to make education authorities aware of staff who have been convicted of sex-offences in the past. Education authorities and other bodies will then be able to launch disciplinary proceedings against those convicted.

Last month, international NGO Innocence in Danger revealed to Newsweek that thousands of children are potentially being sexually abused in French schools by paedophile teachers.

In one particularly horrendous case which made national headlines, it was discovered that a headteacher with a previous conviction for possessing child pornography had tricked several pupils into performing oral sex on him, saying that they were taking part in a 'workshop on experiencing new tastes'.

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Local education authorities said it had received no information or official documents about the headteacher's past conviction. The headteacher now faces sex abuse charges against 55 pupils from the school.

Belkacem was then forced to admit that 16 teachers were allowed to work in schools last year despite holding previous convictions for paedophilia.

However, Homayra Sellier, founder of Innocence in Danger, argues that the new law will not go far enough. "What French people do when something goes wrong is they make a new law rather than taking time to meditate on the problem", says Sellier. "This law won't change much, particularly as it will only come into force in a year's time."

In particular, Sellier is concerned that inspections of staff at education institutions are still not mandatory, and there is no obligation on staff or authorities to report and denounce those suspected of questionable behaviour. "We still don't know how many people working as teachers are potential child abusers," says Sellier. "We are having cases come to us everyday."

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One of the cases that has most recently come to Sellier's attention is that of a manager of a horse-riding centre in Bure who is suspected of raping three minors while working there, despite already having a police record as a child abuser.

Another case that recently came to light involves a 43-year-old teacher in Chambery, near Lille, who was imprisoned in 2013 for raping several of his students. Since then, 43 more charges have been brought against him, according to Seller.

Sahand Saber, a lawyer currently working on behalf of Innocence In Danger, agrees that the new law is not sufficient, as it will still be down to a state prosecutor to determine whether or not to send information about a convicted paedophile to the Ministry of Education.

"The state prosecutor is now in charge of this decision, he or she has the responsibility," says Sahand. "If we have a prosecutor who decides there is no need to send the information to the minister of education, there is a risk that the criminal will simply work in a different school."

"What we want is an automatic system," he says. "This law is a first step but it won't be an effective system. There is no guarantee that child abusers will be tracked as a result of this law."

Newsweek has contacted the French Ministry of Education for comment.

France to pass new anti-paedophile law in wake of nationwide scandal |