More than 450,000 children are at high risk of sexual abuse, domestic abuse, severe disability without access to proper resources, or a lack of basic rights, a nongovernmental organization reported on Thursday.
“Israeli children are exposed to a tremendous array of many different pressures, to which few children in the world are similarly exposed,” said Yitzhak Kadman, director of the National Council for the Child.
Nearly a third of the children in the country live under the poverty line, more than triple the proportion in 1980, and more than 80,000 lack legal status and the basic rights associated with it, problems the NGO said necessitate an overhaul of the state’s policies.
The council’s report noted bright spots – falling delinquency rates and low mortality – but depicted a lack of adequate services for hundreds of thousands of youngsters.
The NGO called for the establishment of state council for the prevention of sexual assault and violence against children.
Kadman presented the organization’s 23rd annual report to President Reuven Rivlin and his wife, Nechama, who takes a special interest in children in general and child welfare in particular.
“Children are not only the adults of the future, they are people of the present, and a state should protect all its citizens,” the president said.
He told Kadman that he would recommend him for the President’s Prize of Distinction, the nation’s highest civilian honor.
Kadman suggested that the government to be formed after March’s general election include a minister for children and youth, but Rivlin said that this would create confusion between the duties of such a ministry and existing ministries whose responsibilities include children and youth.
Kadman called for full-time health, social services, education and justice ministers to be appointed to oversee the execution of reforms left in limbo by ministers who resigned. Children cannot afford to wait till after the election and the formation of a new government, he said.
The food rescue organization Leket Israel, which distributes millions of meals annually, said that unfortunately, the data presented in the report “do not surprise us.”
“I implore the new government to put the needs of Israel’s hungry children at the forefront and not just rely upon the nonprofit organizations to cope with this crisis,” Leket’s CEO Gidi Kroch said.
Mitch Chupak, the development director for the Jaffa Institute, which stages intervention programs for at-risk children, said he “won’t hold his breath” for increased government services.
“[Municipal] welfare departments are just overwhelmed – social workers have 150 to 200 caseloads sitting on their table,” he said. “What can they do to help a family like that?” The best remedy for the problems described in the report is early intervention to remove children for dangerous conditions at a young age, he said.
“You walk into a one-room apartment with no furniture, you see a mattress on the floor, and you see a sixmonth- old baby lying on the mattress,” Chupak said.
“There’s no crib, no food – no training of what it means to be a proper parent.”
Kadman decried “the unique state of Israeli society that stands with one leg in the third world and the other leg in the most advanced world. As such its children suffer from the unique negatives of both worlds together,” he said.
Too many children have become addicted to the Internet and to social media, where they are at risk for exploitation by pedophilic predators, he said.
He expressed particular outrage that there has been no definitive legislation introduced to deal with this problem, nor has the Education Ministry adequately addressed the subject.
The comprehensive report has points of light and points of shadow, Kadman said.
On the positive side, regardless of what has been published in the media, the number of children committing crimes has gone down, he said.
There have also been decreases in alcohol abuse and infant mortality, and there has been an increase in the percentage of students who complete their high school studies with a matriculation certificate (bagrut).
On the downside, while 50 percent are eligible for the bagrut, the other half are not; and while the number of child victims in traffic accidents has been substantially lowered, there has been a sharp increase in accidents in the home and its immediate environs.
As grim a picture as the report painted for Israeli youth in general, it suggested that conditions for Arab children in Israel are much worse. The poverty rate among Arab children is 66.4%, the report stated – up from 65.8% in 2010 and more than three times higher than the 20% poverty rate reported for Jewish children.
The report also discusses changes in demography.
Between 2013 and 1995, the proportion of Jewish newborns fell from 75% to 70.5% of total births while the percentage of children born to Muslim families increased from 20.9% to 23.4%.
The report follows a publication earlier this week by food charity nonprofit Latet claiming an even greater number, 35% of children, live in poverty, and that 27% of impoverished children have dropped out of school.
Those findings prompted criticism from the Likud as a maneuver designed to influence the election, and sniping from opposition politicians who pinned responsibility on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
In October, the United Nations Children’s Fund released a report saying Israel’s child poverty rate is the fourth highest in the developed world.
At the presentation of the National Council for the Child report, Itamar Tirza, a 16-yearold student from the Reut School in Jerusalem for religious and secular students and a radio broadcaster in his hometown of Kfar Adumim, presented a youth’s perspective of the situation.
Many poor children work after school or during school holidays and are frequently exploited by employers, Tirza noted.Lidar Gravé-Lazi contributed to this report.