As the number of teachers fired due to charges over indecent sexual acts committed against students continues to rise, a lawmaker-sponsored bill that cleared the Diet on Friday aims to make it more difficult for them to be rehired.

In fiscal 2019, 273 teachers at public high schools, junior high schools and elementary schools were dismissed over sexual acts involving children, a 30% increase compared with five years ago, according to the education ministry.

While ruling and opposition lawmakers were on the same page this time — believing that teachers who conduct such acts, including having sex with children and possessing pornographic images of them, should face stricter scrutiny should they attempt to resume teaching — introducing further legislative measures to establish criteria for rehiring could spark debates and differences between the parties.

What will the law change?

The new law aims to make it more difficult for educators who lost their teaching licenses after being dismissed for disciplinary reasons, including committing acts of sexual violence, to work again.

In the current system, teachers who have been dismissed for sexual acts against students and lose their teaching licenses, can have their licenses reissued after three years, allowing them to work elsewhere.

Under the new legislation passed Friday, a prefectural board of education would consult a panel of experts on whether it should reissue the license, essentially giving them the right to veto it. The panel would make the judgment considering various factors, including why the applicant was originally dismissed and whether they have been rehabilitated.

Details of the criteria on which decisions to reissue licenses should be based will be the subject of further discussions.

“Based on the bill, we will draft a basic guideline for comprehensively and effectively promoting measures related to the prevention of sexual violence, and a ministerial ordinance regarding prefectural expert panels on reissuing teachers’ licenses,” education minister Koichi Hagiuda said Wednesday.

The law will also see the creation of a government database on teachers who have been dismissed over sexual acts involving students, which could be accessed by prefectural education boards and private schools when hiring teachers for kindergarten through high school.

The U.K. has a similar database called the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) that allows employers to check potential employees for criminal records.

What were the concerns over the legislation?

One of the concerns was whether it followed the Constitution, which guarantees a person’s freedom to choose a profession to the extent that it does not interfere with public welfare. But the bill had already been deemed appropriate to ensure public welfare — namely the safety of children.

Another concern is that it goes against government policy that criminal offenders should be given a second chance after they rehabilitate.

“We need to make sure that the nation doesn’t deny people who have made mistakes the opportunity to be given another chance,” Hagiuda said in February.

The education ministry had been considering drafting the bill itself, but due to such considerations the ministry decided it was better for it to be drafted by lawmakers rather than the government.

As a result, a ruling Liberal Democratic Party-Komeito team began discussing the bill in March. After consultation with opposition lawmakers, it was unanimously approved in both chambers.

“Sexual violence by educators is unacceptable. When we think about the feelings of the children, stronger measures are needed so such teachers don’t return to the podium,” said Komeito member Tomoko Ukishima at the Lower House education committee session on May 21.

What have opposition parties proposed?

The Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan had been seeking language broader in scope, and stronger measures for all occupations when it comes to acts that harm children. As a general rule, the party suggested in April that someone with a history of obscene acts against children should not be allowed to work with them again.

The opposition Democratic Party for the People, which also agreed to the current bill, had submitted a separate bill earlier this month calling for those who commit sexual acts against children to be barred from becoming day care and school teachers for up to 10 years. The concerns of both the CDP and the DPP are expected to come up in future Diet debates.

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