President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration has been hard at work trying to come up with ways to revive the nation’s flagging birth rate. Unsurprisingly, the answer is not to be found in catchy slogans or shooting pretty advertisements with photogenic babies.
The key is to demonstrate that the government is committed to taking care of children and ensuring they get to grow up in a safe and happy environment. That is why the Ministry of Education needs to take amendments to the Gender Equality Education Act (性別平等教育法) more seriously.
The eighth National Education Conference concluded on Aug. 29. This was the first gathering of its kind in 16 years, with participants discussing objectives for the education system over the next decade.
As part of this program, the ministry undertook to draw up short-term, mid-term and long-term plans to foster a “healthy, safe and quality” learning environment. However, there remains a long way to go before this objective is realized.
Over the past two years, the nation has been shocked by reports of education authorities neglecting their duty to report allegations of sexual abuse to the ministry and failing to take action to prevent abuse and assaults.
Through these reports and the ministry’s handling of the cases, numerous administrative loopholes have been exposed. Most egregious is the fact that some personnel have been allowed to retire without being disciplined for not reporting allegations of abuse of children at their schools. Others have been given a demerit, fined a maximum of NT$30,000 by local educational bureaus and allowed to continue working as teachers or administrators.
Ministry official Eric Ker (柯今尉) said last week that the ministry was unable to make retired personnel pay for their negligence or force local educational bureaus to remove individuals who are unfit to work as teachers.
The Taiwan High Court Taichung Branch’s acquittal on Aug. 26 of an elementary school principal charged with forgery also highlighted a legal loophole. The High Court said the principal was not guilty of forgery even though it acknowledged that she concealed the fact a teacher had sexually assaulted four boys and later reported the case to the ministry as a case of harassment, not assault.
The ministry tried to defend itself by saying it has reservations about subjecting teachers to criminal punishment, and anyway the Sexual Abuse Prevention Act (性侵害防治法) already obliges educational personnel to report cases of sexual abuse within 24 hours of learning about such a case.
However, the act does not stipulate any punishment for those who fail to report abuse allegations, which means it is unlikely to be sufficient, in at least some cases, to compel education officials to go to the trouble of sending a report to the ministry.
The legislature’s Education and Culture Committee recently passed a resolution giving the ministry six months to propose amendments aimed at stopping education authorities taking advantage of legal and administrative loopholes. The ministry should seize this opportunity to amend the Gender Equality Education Act to ensure schools at all levels really are safe places for students to learn and grow.
Maybe then Taiwanese will feel more comfortable about bringing babies into the world.
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