The neglect of children is intolerable and the worst possible sin, President Shimon Peres said on Sunday after receiving the annual statistical report on children in Israel from Yitzhak Kadman, the director of The National Council for the Child.
“We can’t keep on making this mistake. We have to give children the kind of future to which they are entitled.” said Peres after hearing Kadman recite some of the shocking statistics contained in the report, as for instance findings that every fifth child in Israel has been sexually abused and every third child is living below the poverty line.
Kadman had complained that rights and benefits accruing to children had been suspended or cancelled on the excuse that there were insufficient funds to pay for them.
Responding to Kadman’s grievance, Peres said that it was unjust that children should be the main victims of the national deficit. As a former finance minister, he said, he was aware that it was possible, regardless of budgetary constraints, to help children and to strengthen their well-being.
In presenting the report, Kadman reminded Peres that when receiving the report last year, the president had asked him to come back with a more favorable report, this year.
“We tried, but we didn’t succeed, although there are a few points of light,” said Kadman listing reductions in juvenile crime and alcohol consumption by minors, fewer children killed or hurt in traffic accidents, less infant mortality and more students with bagrut certificates.
“But there are still too many shadows,” he said, noting that in the last 40 years there has been a 120 per cent growth in the child population which is higher percentage wise than any western country.
Commenting on Israel’s claim that it spends more on education than any country in Europe, Kadman said that this could well be the case, “but they forgot to calculate how much to spend on each child. Every third person in Israel is a child.”
Kadman lambasted the government for allowing anyone who wants to do so to open a creche for children under the age of three. Often such people have no qualifications or training he said, yet children of the most impressionable and vulnerable age are entrusted to their care.
Kadman demanded that the government introduce a law that would set specific standards for educational facilities for children under the age of three. He also insisted that the government invest more in education and provide free education from below the age of three to university level.
Because education is not free, he said, parents who want their children to succeed pay for private tutors or for extracurricular studies. The children of parents who do not have the wherewithal to pay for these educational extras, too often lag behind.
Even youth movements which used to be free, have become a costly investment to parents who want their children to have community oriented values, Kadman commented.
He also implied that Israeli schools were unpleasant experiences for the youngsters enrolled at them. “Israeli children more than those of any other country within the orbit of the OECD dislike school,” he said.
Kadman was critical of the long hours to which children are exposed to the internet without parental supervision, and of how the internet was often their first encounter with pornography that in some cases later led to child abuse.
With regard to child abuse, he said that not enough was being done to protect children. Not all victims of child abuse had been sexually assaulted, but every second child in Israel had been the victim of some form of violence, he said.
Most of the victims of abuse had been harmed by adults whom they knew, not by strangers, he clarified.
Noam Ben Harush, a youth leader and 10th grade student at the Reut School in Jerusalem, said that after reading the report, she was shocked to discover the number of children who had been sexually abused.
She charged adults with not making sufficient use of people in youth groups who could talk to their peer generation, warn them of what to be aware of and help them at times of distress when they had been assaulted or simply when they felt that there had been no response to their needs.
“They’ll open up to us more than to adults. It’s much easier for them to talk to people around their own age,” she said.
Peres observed that there is confusion between leisure time and entertainment. Leisure time can also be used for work or study, he said, suggesting that both be combined so that high school students could spend two hours a day working for a high tech enterprise.
This would give them a workplace discipline, enable them to earn money, learn on the job and simultaneously make a contribution to the economy, he said.