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Peres calls for immediate action on child poverty
By GREER FAY CASHMAN
18/12/2012
State of the Child in Israel finds that number of children living below poverty line increased 4.5-fold in 30 years.
 
Shocked by some of the findings in the annual report of the State of the Child in Israel, President Shimon Peres on Tuesday urged all political parties campaigning for the Knesset elections to temporarily put their differences aside and come together to formulate a national policy for the welfare of the child.

This is not the concern of a single party, said Peres, but rather a national concern.

“Children can be a burden or a blessing depending on what is invested in them,” he said.

Peres considers children to be the nation’s most important potential investment, and insisted that their welfare be given top priority. Whatever happens to an individual in his or her formative years stays with them forever and cannot be reversed, he explained. A child that receives poor nutrition, he continued, is likely to grow into an unhealthy adult – physically, emotionally and intellectually.

Peres issued the call after perusing the 682-page report – most of which contains statistics – and hearing Yitzhak Kadman, chairman of the National Council for the Child, declare that it was imperative that an immediate massive effort must be made to improve child welfare services in Israel.

Kadman, who came to the President’s Residence to present Peres with the report, said that there are 92,000 children living in Israel without any legal status, which means that they have no legal rights.

Not all these children are the progeny of illegal immigrants he clarified, explaining that there is a wide variety of reasons for their lack of status, including being born to a tourist with a work permit, a foreign resident or an ultra-Orthodox parent who does nor recognize the State of Israel.

The report indicates that there are many more children without citizenship. As of March 2012 there were 155,985 such children according to figures presented in the report. These particular statistics tended to fluctuate between 2006 to 2012, with the highest figure of 260,420 in 2007 and the lowest figure of 145,855 in 2009.

The birth rate in Israel is increasing at a rapid pace, Kadman noted. Whereas a decade ago there were some 100,000 births, last year the figure rose to 167,000 births, but health, leisure, legal, psychological and educational services for the child did not grow at the same rate.

Jerusalem is home to the largest number of children in the country. Of a total child population of 2,576,988, 329,871 live in Jerusalem compared to Tel Aviv-Jaffa which has only 81,527, followed by Haifa with 59,390. Nearly a third of Jerusalem’s child population is under the age of four.

Last year there were 22,000 births in Jerusalem, a figure that Kadman equated with that of a small town.

“This means a whole town is born in Jerusalem every year,” he exclaimed.

It would seem that Israeli children are very accident prone, especially at home.

Every fourth child in the country was taken to the emergency ward of a hospital over the past year said Kadman, noting the dearth of health care facilities for children in relation to their ratio in the population.

Figures of children and youth at risk have risen alarmingly, and have tripled since 1995 when the figure was 16,815. In 2011 it had increased to 49,426. Close to 33,000 children were victims of domestic violence, neglect or sexual abuse in 2011.

The number of children living below the poverty line has increased by some 60 percent over the previous year. It is a mistake to judge poverty only on the basis of constant hunger and begging for coins at traffic intersections, said Kadman. Children whose parents can’t afford to pay for a school outing in a country in which education is supposedly free are also living in poverty. They are missing out on the experience of going on an adventure with their classmates and of learning about new places.

Such youngsters are at a disadvantage in terms of health, leisure and education, he said, and are unlikely finish high school and matriculate.

There are outrageous gaps between the poor and the affluent he said, pointing out that affluent families can afford tutors for their children and can thus give them the tools for matriculation for improvement of the quality of their lives. For poor families this is a luxury and children often become school drop outs so that they can go to work and contribute to the family income.

The report was not entirely bleak.

Fewer children have been killed or hurt in traffic accidents, something that Kadman attributed to an aggressive publicity campaign, and there has also been less juvenile crime and less consumption of alcohol by minors. In addition, fewer minors are becoming under-age parents.

Mindful of Israel’s high birthrate, Kadman said that more children means more problems, because if current services are inadequate and more or less stagnant, more children will be getting less in future.

Quoting the words of US President Barack Obama in Newton, Connecticut, at the memorial service for the children and adults murdered by gunman last week, Kadman asked whether we are truly doing enough to give all children the chance they deserve to live out their lives in happiness and with purpose.

Like Obama he came to the conclusion that the answer is a resounding no.

“We don’t have to wait for our children to die in a massacre before we prove we care,” said Kadman, who insisted that the status quo can be radically changed if enough people want it to happen.
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