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Over 1,000 children are listed as missing in Israel
By RUTH EGLASH
10/01/2012
Child welfare NGO says better information-sharing could help solve cases – and prevent new ones.
 
More than 1,000 children and teens are considered missing in Israel, according to information released Monday by the National Council for the Child.

Improving the flow of information between government ministries and the police could either prevent or solve these cases, the NCC said.

The information was released to specifically raise attention to the case of 15- year-old Nofar Ben-Hemo, who has been missing since December 17. She was last seen leaving her home in Lod at 9 p.m., she did not take her mobile phone with her and her parents have not heard from her since then.

Even though the police started to investigate her disappearance within 24-hours of it being reported, there is still little information as to what happened to Ben-Hemo.

According to NCC Executive Director Dr. Yitzhak Kadman, Ben-Hemo’s story is not unusual for many of the teens missing in Israel.

“No one believes that she has been kidnapped, but still no one knows where she is,” he told The Jerusalem Post, highlighting that one of the main problems is the failure to share information between the police and the Ministries of Welfare and Social Affairs and Education.

“The problem is that the police receive information and they do not pass it on to the Ministry of Welfare and Social Services or a child has problems in school or does not show up for a week and that information is not shared elsewhere either,” said Kadman, emphasizing “there needs to be much more synchronization between the police that will prevent this and help to find these kids.”

The information provided by the NCC, which is based on official police statistics, shows that in 2010, 1,070 children ranging from one to 17 were reported missing. The majority of the children, 980, were over the age of 12; 14 were aged one to five; and 76 were between 11 and 16.

Six hundred seventy girls and 400 boys are missing.

Most of the missing children came from the periphery – either the North or South – and that many of the children’s families were impoverished or faced severe difficulties.

Kadman said that in many cases, the children were among those that the state considers “at-risk,” and they end up on the streets for a wide range of different reasons, often due to abuse or neglect.

He said many of the children who find themselves on the streets end up falling victim to criminal rings or individuals that take advantage of the situation.

In November, youth-at-risk organization Elem reported to the Knesset on an alarming increase in the number of youths being drawn into the sex industry, including prostitution, in order to survive on the streets.

While Kadman said that not all those missing children were likely to work in the sex industry, he did point out that the phenomenon is very worrying and the authorities need to be doing more to prevent it from happening.

Last month, a State Comptroller’s report slammed the various government agencies, including the police, for not adequately sharing information about children at risk.

“The State Comptroller’s Office views with severity the poor communications between the police, hospitals and health clinics and the Departments of Welfare and Social Services in the local municipalities,” wrote the report’s authors. “This means that hundreds of people are not receiving the help and treatment that they need.”

The comptroller also pointed out that the situation comes nearly two years after a Welfare Ministry report emphasized that helping children at risk should take precedence over the right to privacy – and more than a year-and-a-half after the Ministerial Committee for Welfare and Social Services proposed legislation to enable those who encounter cases of child abuse to immediately share the information with welfare officers.

Kadman said that while such legislation was important, it was not the only answer to this growing problem.

“We should not have to wait until a law is passed,” he said.

“It is just common sense that such vital information is shared between all those who are working with children.”

In response, Israel Police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld said that a great deal of information is shared between the police and other relevant government authorities, including the social services and the local authorities.

Meanwhile, the Knesset Committee for Welfare, Labor and Health, chaired by MK Haim Katz (Likud), approved on Monday to extend the activities of the National Insurance Institute’s Fund for Children at Risk for a further three years.

The fund, whose budget must be re-approved every three years by the Knesset, was founded in 2004 and subsidizes a wide range of programs and services for children and youth at risk. Its NIS 18 million annual budget is in addition to Ministry of Welfare and Social Affairs’ National Program for Children at Risk.

Katz said Monday that he planned to draft legislation that would make the National Insurance Institute’s Fund a permanent program.
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