We work to ensure our member communities provide comprehensive, effective education and support for children and young adults, focused on their physical, social and emotional well-being. Together with a team of global experts, we provide child protection training, resources, and support to our school and university leaders. We empower them to learn how to educate their communities and develop capacity to prevent and manage all aspects of abuse.

Talking about child abuse is not easy. Although it may be uncomfortable, it is critical to start the discussion in international school communities. The ease of mobility that international work provides, coupled with weak recruitment practices, different cultural norms and underdeveloped legal systems in various countries can make international education communities prime targets for child abusers. At CIS, we purposefully foster open discussion with our members and have invested to increase the knowledge of our staff to consider the role we all have in keeping students safe.

In addition to integrating new practices into our member services, we have created a series of workshops to raise awareness and improve practices within schools and universities. Abuse encompasses a range of behaviour including neglect, bullying, emotional, physical and sexual abuse, and exploitation. Through our work with law enforcement officials, investigators, lawyers, medical doctors, and psychologists, we’ve grown our expertise in specific types of abuse, its origins, the resulting risks and realities for international communities.

Taking Action

We are committed to creating the necessary changes in the international education community. We have integrated new practices into all of our service areas and will continue to invest in educating our community of members, partners, and educators around the world.

Why is this a priority?

We became deeply involved in child protection work when a specific case involving hundreds of students across multiple schools and countries shed light on the fact that children were being abused without detection or reporting. We learned that even when suspicions do arise, offenders often leave to join other schools and continue their pattern of behaviour due to a lack of awareness of the signs of abuse coupled with historic mismanagement of allegations.

The international education community responded by forming an International Taskforce on Child Protection (ITFCP). Jane Larsson, CIS Executive Director formed the International Taskforce on Child Protection and has served as the taskforce chair since 2014.

Following two years of consultation, a comprehensive set of child protection standards have now been agreed by accreditation and inspection bodies globally. The standards cover allegation management, staff selection, detecting and reporting abuse, education and support for leaders, teachers and students about behaviour and boundaries, implementation of policies, and collaboration with the local community.

“It became clear that everyone must begin to discuss the topic more openly to develop understanding and address it effectively.”

Our school and university communities need to consider how they are keeping students safe and promoting student well-being. This engages a wide range of areas of school life: from being vigilant in hiring and monitoring staff, to recognizing problematic behaviours of adults or students in our school communities. From active oversight and scrutiny by school and university boards and owners, to strengthening the school’s approach to online safety. From tackling peer-on-peer abuse in all its forms, to strengthening the school’s procedures for trips and homestay arrangements. It is only by taking steps to address these and other issues that school leaders will understand their roles in preventing and addressing abuse.

How common is child sexual abuse in international schools?

There are no statistics available which detail abuse by educators in international schools. Studies conducted around the world report that the rate of abuse and exploitation (by the age of 18) impacts between 1 in 10 children, and as high as 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 4 boys according to various national studies.

Studies estimate that 70% of child sexual abuse occurs between children. Schools and educators need to consider:

“What is problematic sexual behaviour in children?” 

These numbers have significant implications for the work ahead of us as we educate children and support them in our communities.

Why are international communities especially vulnerable?

Diverse cultural norms and varying national laws addressing physical and sexual abuse add complexity and uncertainty when serving an international community. As part of the International Taskforce, a survey of 716 international educators identified cultural norms as the #1 barrier to identifying and reporting abuse. Almost half of the educators reported they lack confidence in their abilities to detect abuse.

Globally across cultures, child sexual abuse is not addressed openly or effectively. Too often, the signs of abuse go unrecognized. It is historically under-reported: experts tell us that only 5% of sexual abuse incidents are reported to authorities and of those, only 7% result in a criminal conviction. 

Recruiting from a pool of internationally mobile individuals also presents significant safer recruitment challenges. These challenges can also arise as a result of the legal or cultural framework of the country where the school is based. Isolation from local services and under-developed child protection systems can also make it harder for schools to prevent, identify early and respond appropriately to abuse in their community. 

The Child Protection Handbook of the Association of International Schools in Africa explains that

“international school communities are vulnerable to abuse because the nature of abuse requires secrecy, insularity, isolation and limited access to support resources, which are some characteristics of the international community. International schools must respond to the reality that these characteristics are exactly the characteristics that perpetrators will use to their advantage in abusing children”.

For a list of specific characteristics of international school communities that should be taken into account when considering how to design and implement child protection policies in your schools, review the online handbook.