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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 16 November 2018

Arrest of Dubai school teacher on abuse charges in US puts spotlight on child safety

William Ball had no known previous convictions, but his alleged internet grooming of a minor in Florida sparks a fresh debate on the issue

US Marshals arrested Dubai-based teacher William Ball, who they allege paid $5,000 to have sex with a seven-year-old in Florida.
US Marshals arrested Dubai-based teacher William Ball, who they allege paid $5,000 to have sex with a seven-year-old in Florida.

The arrest last week of a teacher from a Dubai school on child sex charges in the United States has cast a spotlight on how much awareness parents and children have about the dangers of online grooming.

William Ball has been suspended from his post at the Swiss International Scientific School in Al Jaddaf after he was arrested on a trip home to the United States.

He stands accused of soliciting a minor for sex and child pornography.

Mr Ball had no previous convictions relating to the charges and so far no similar accusations have come to light in the UAE.

But the arrest has led experts to urge all schools to ensure they are carrying out thorough background checks, and to ensure that parents and children themselves understand potential risks.

Natasha Ridge, an education consultant and executive director at the Al Qasimi Foundation for policy research, said schools have a responsibility to check the backgrounds of new staff – beyond the required police check – before letting them work with children.

“Whilst schools need to fill their teaching positions, they should be looking out for certain red flags in the employment history, such as very short stints in other countries or other schools," she said.

“A police check is required, but if people move around a lot and move on quickly, it can be difficult to complete detailed appropriate checks.”

“Quite often, cases are not always reported so even a police check in most countries may not show that someone should not be working in a school.

“Schools need to do their due diligence, but that is often just done for the previous job. If that was for less than two years and there were no reported incidents, historical behaviour can be hard to identify."

Mrs Ridge also called for the introduction of a hotline for teachers and students to report suspicious behaviour from other teachers.

The Knowledge and Human Development Authority said existing school protocols are strict, reassuring parents the safeguarding of children is of "paramount importance" and that child protection is a core tenet of teacher licensing.

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“Ensuring that children are protected is more than a one-time requirement for teachers in Dubai,” said Dr Naji Al Mahdi, chief of qualifications and awards at the KHDA.

“It is an ongoing requirement for teachers to maintain exemplary records with respect to child protection throughout their teaching careers in Dubai.

“Evidence of an exemplary record of child protection must be provided prior to each renewal of the teaching license and before a teacher is employed in a new position at a different school.”

Teachers applying for jobs in the UAE must submit child protection certificates, such as the UK’s International Child Protection Certificate, the US’s Report of Enhanced Criminal Record Certificate or a certificate from the Bureau of Criminal Information and Analysis from countries that issue official certificates.

Teachers from countries which do not issue official certificates must provide alternative evidence of unblemished records with respect to child protection.

This evidence must be submitted by school principals and local police from countries in which the teacher has recently worked.

To achieve a licence, all teachers must take an approved course in child protection that covers not only an understanding of child protection issues, but also the need to report concerns about child abuse by others, including colleagues, parents or fellow students.

At the end of the course, teachers are assessed and then only teachers who are successful in this assessment are licensed to teach in Dubai schools.

Dr Rajeshree Singhania, a paediatrician in Dubai who has dealt with cases of molestation, said Mr Ball’s case offers an opportunity to bring attention to the issue and encourage education on how to spot the warning signs of abuse and grooming that can go undetected.

“Schools must have designated counsellors the children can approach and parents should also watch out for tell-tale signs,” she said.

“There are many indications, like if the child refuses to go to school. There may be bedwetting or the child could exhibit overtly sexual behaviour that is odd for that age.

“The child may develop sleep and eating problems and cry unnecessarily. These are new behaviours to look out for.”

Dr Singhania said the incident should not push pupils to fear their teachers, but that education workshops should be held in the schools.

“This is part of educating children on how to protect themselves, especially from sexual molestation and abuse,” she said.

“Most molestations are by people known to the child. It could be a teacher; an uncle or family friend they look up to."

25.02.18 JLT, Dubai. Reem Shaheen, counselling psychologist at her clinic; Clear Minds Centre. Anna Nielsen For The National
Reem Shaheen, a counselling psychologist at Clear Minds Centre, said cases such as William Ball's raise an important debate about how to identify and protect against child abuse. Anna Nielsen for The National

Mr Ball, from Mississippi, was arrested by police shortly after arriving in Florida after allegedly setting up a meeting for sex with a child.

He is claimed to have paid US$5,000 (Dh18,365) to meet the seven-year-old and bought a ticket to fly from Dubai to America.

Swiss International School in Dubai has written to parents, reassuring them Ball was recruited through a reputable agency, and stringent background checks had been made.

The school said it carried out its own verification and obtained police clearance for him valid from 2011 until the start of his employment at the school in 2017.

New guidelines associated with visa applications were introduced this month to add further checks to who is coming to work in the country.

Since February 4, the government has required those moving to the UAE to produce a 'good conduct and behaviour certificate' or police clearance letter before starting work.

The term varies between countries but it must prove workers have never committed a criminal offence.

Reem Shaheen, a counselling psychologist at the Clear Minds Centre in Dubai, said when such cases come to light, it should be an opportunity to raise awareness.

“When something happens in a vulnerable population like children, everyone will look at themselves to take some responsibility,” Ms Shaheen.