Kids 'Sitting Ducks' for Pedophile Teachers

Amid the bars and nightclubs of Bangkok's Khao San Road, the city's main backpacker hangout, fliers advertise English-language teaching jobs available to virtually anyone capable of reading the posters.

Teaching English has been a mainstay of countless Westerners looking to live in Asia, or simply looking for enough cash to keep traveling. In a region hungry to learn the international language of commerce and diplomacy, established schools and fly-by-night "language centers" employ transient tourists, recent college graduates and sometimes, inadvertently, sexual predators looking for young victims.

Canadian Christopher Paul Neil, 32, is the most recent alleged pedophile accused of exploiting the region's demand for English teachers and lax hiring practices in an effort to rape children.

Though technology once kept the face and identity of Neil hidden behind a computer generated swirl, Interpol and Thai police now believe he is hiding amid Bangkok's winding streets.

Since discovering pictures online three years ago of a man seen raping 12 boys, some as young as 6, in Vietnam and Cambodia, German police have worked to identify the suspect whose face had been digitally obscured. Neil, who is believed to have taught at a Thai school from 2003-2004, was caught on camera at the Bangkok Airport entering Thailand last week from Seoul, South Korea. A student at a Korean school in the southern city of Gwangju identified Neil has having taught there for three months.

"It is really a matter of access to children. How do foreigners access children in this region?" asked Rosalind Prober, president of the Canadian children's advocacy group Beyond Borders, by phone from Bangkok.

"There are many ways, depending on the skills you have. While some men pay for sex, teaching offers the perfect venue for access to others. ... These men are highly manipulative and experienced. … Schoolchildren are simply sitting ducks. There are lots of cultural mores about welcoming foreigners and many cultural taboos about complaining about teachers."

In January, British national Sean McMahon, 45, who was teaching English in Bangkok was repatriated to Great Britain on charges that he had raped an 8-year-old girl there.

A month later, Australian Peter William Smith, 48, who taught at a school in Jakarta, Indonesia, was sentenced to 10 years and fined $10,000 by an Indonesian court for engaging in sex with more than 50 boys.

Probably the most publicized arrest of a teacher accused of preying on children came in August 2006, when American John Mark Karr, who confessed to -- and was later exonerated for -- the 1996 murder of Jon Bennet Ramsey was picked up in Thailand. Karr's case spotlighted the ease with which sexual predators could find work in the region's schools.

Karr lost his California teaching license in 2001 for possessing child pornography but had nevertheless taught at three Thai elementary schools.

"Most schools are going to say that they have a screening process. What that means is they looked at a resume, or did an interview. Maybe they saw a diploma from a hopefully real university," American Craig Harrington, who taught in Thai schools for three years wrote in an e-mail from Bangkok.

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