Child victims of abuse should not pay a price for remaining silent, Supreme Court Justice Edna Arbel said.

She spoke during her opening speech at the Beersheba Conference on the Welfare of the Child, which took place on Monday and Tuesday at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.

“We come across cases of the most serious violence – verbal, physical and sexual – of small babies, boys and girls and of course teenagers, by parents, grandparents, uncles and brothers. The family makes the minor a punching bag, deploys violence against him, sometimes hair-raising, or those that rely on the ability to intimidate their minor victim by weaving relationships of silence, by creating an atmosphere of fear, threats, and exploitation of the minor’s dependence on his family,” said Arbel.

The Supreme Court justice discussed how to “break the silence” of abused children and stressed the importance of awareness on the part of those closest to them, as well as neighbors, teachers and doctors.

She addressed the growing phenomenon of sexual assault over the Internet and called for harsher punishments against online sexual offenders.

Some 500 people participated in the annual conference, in its 13th year, including youth, government ministers, judges and criminologists, as well as education, medical and social services professionals.

Dr. Yitzhak Kadman, executive director of the National Council for the Child, also addressed the opening plenum.

“Today we know how little we really know on the extent of the phenomenon of child abuse in Israel. This is a challenge to all services for children in medicine, education, welfare and the justice system who must improve their access to children in order to allow them to tell their story.

As long as the children are silent, there is no way to help them and stop the attacks on them. In addition, we must listen to children seriously and especially believe in them, believe them and give them the real feeling that we will come to their aid,” Kadman said.

Among the subjects tackled at the conference were why children are silent victims, child poverty in the 21st century, child victims of indirect violence, surrogacy in the eyes of Jewish tradition, alcohol use among youth, and youth sex offenders.

Prof. Rachel Lev-Weisel, from the University of Haifa, reported findings that most abused children do not disclose their abuse.

According to Lev-Weisel, only 18 percent of Jewish children and 5% of Arab children told someone they had been abused, usually a family member or friend. Of the children who told someone, some 40% said nothing had changed since they sought help.

In a panel discussion on child poverty in the 21st century, National Insurance Institute director-general Prof.

Shlomo Mor-Yosef said child allotments were not a priority for the government, even though there was enough money to allocate them. He called on the government to undertake a national savings program for impoverished children that would accumulate money until their discharge from the IDF, allowing for a foundation to start their lives and break the cycle of poverty.

At the same panel discussion, Prof. Asher Ben-Arieh, director of the Haruv Institute, said the national savings program was a good idea but could not come at the expense of child allotments.

He called on the government to “flip the pyramid” and allocate a larger child allotment for the first child in a family, since the majority of expenses are incurred when starting a family.

Eli Alalouf, chairman of the Committee to Fight Poverty, said that the government had “the resources, has the prerogatives, has professionalism, but lacks proper utilization of resources” to combat poverty.

Also at the conference, Welfare and Social Services Minister Meir Cohen publicized findings that showed that in the Tel Aviv area alone, some 700 children work in prostitution, of whom 300 are still enrolled in school.

Cohen said that a new inter-professional monthly roundtable including himself, the education minister and the health minister was established, to discuss and try to advance solutions on pertinent issues.

The minister concluded by calling on education, welfare, and care professionals as well as parents to provide better and more loving care for children.

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