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In a stunningly misguided program implemented by the British government, all children's book authors who visit schools must register with a national database intended to protect children from pedophiles, and they must pay a fee to do so. Beginning October 12, 2009, the Vetting and Barring Scheme (VBS) will require that all adults who work with children, including authors such as J.K. Rowling and Philip Pullman if they make special visits to schools, will be required to register with the database for a fee of £64 ($105).
The Independent reports that as a result, several well-known authors will boycott schools in protest of the requirement. Philip Pullman, Anne Fine, Anthony Horowitz, Michael Morpurgo, and Quentin Blake have all publicly stated that they object to having their names listed in the database. Pullman, author of the popular fantasy trilogy His Dark Materials, called the policy "corrosive and poisonous to every kind of healthy social interaction." He eloquently adds, "This reinforces the culture of suspicion, fear and mistrust that underlies a great deal of present-day society. It teaches children that they should regard every adult as a potential murderer or rapist." Anne Fine, the former Children's Laureate for the U.K. and author of over 50 children's books, labelled the requirement "government idiocy." "When it [the VBS] becomes essential, I shall continue to work only in foreign schools, where sanity prevails," she said. "The whole idea of vetting an adult who visits many schools, but each only for a day, and then always in the presence of other adults, is deeply offensive. Our children will become further impoverished by this tiresome and ill-considered scheme, and yet another gulf will be created between young people and the rest of society."
The VBS was set up in 2002 following the tragic murders of Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells by a school janitor, Ian Huntley. A government spokesperson defended the new rigorous regulation, saying, "The new scheme means every individual working in a field that requires more than a tiny amount of contact with children and/or vulnerable adults will have to be vetted. If they are passed, they will be placed on a register that says they are allowed to work in a regulated field. If they are barred, they will go on a separate register and it will be a criminal offence for them to try and obtain work in a regulated field, carrying a penalty of up to five years in prison. It will also be illegal for anyone to employ them."
Indeed, while such reasoning seems to make sense, the ramifications are far from sensible and grossly unfair to children and adults alike. This policy borders on hysteria and panders to the public's basest fears by assuming the worst of everybody. While none of these authors wants to see any child harmed, they point to the damage such a policy has on society as a whole. In an editorial in the Independent, Anthony Horowitz, author of the The Alex Rider Collection (Alex Rider Adventure) and the Power of Five book series, perhaps put it best: "This is a law made by people with a bleak and twisted view of society. And such people, quite simply, should not be making laws."