It is a serious matter and subject of shame for a nation like America. In the wake of several cases of sexual abuse of foreign students staying with local families in the US, the government is proposing new rules to screen host families and regulate agencies that sponsor students.
According to media reports, although foreign students have been coming to the country under the formal exchange programmes for more than half a century, no sponsor has been required to keep figures on sexual abuse or report molestation cases to the government.
The proposed rules were published in the Federal Register, which are likely to go into effect after 30 days of public comment, The Washington Post reported.
Under the proposed rules, all adult members of host families and personnel in sponsoring groups will have to be vetted through the sex offender registry and for criminal history, it said.
Sponsors will have to report any allegation of sexual misconduct to local authorities and the state department. "If they don''t report, we''ll close their programme," the report quoted Stanley Colvin, director of the state department office of exchange coordination as saying.
Foreign students are among the most vulnerable minors because they usually do not know US laws, are unfamiliar with customs, are dependent on host families or sponsors, don''t know what to do when abused or are afraid to act, according to Lt. Frank Baker of the Allegan county sheriff's office, who has been involved in the Michigan case.
In their orientation, all foreign students also will be advised on inappropriate sexual contact and what they can do if anyone makes an abusive overture. "We want to be able to resolve any suggestions that this has been underreported," Colvin added.
Some 28,000 high school exchange students, almost all minors, come to the United States every year.
The state department was of the view that publishing the regulations was worthwhile even if they do not eliminate the problem.
"We have had a lot of interest in this from concerned citizens. We heard their concerns, examined the situation fully and decided that if we can build in one extra bit of protection, it would behoove us to do it," Colvin said.
Concerned parents and others have even formed a committee for safety of foreign exchange students to provide guidance and protection against "a pattern of abuse that is making headlines around the world," the report said.
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