Consider the huge amount of time, effort, love, concern and money that parents
invest in each of their children from conception through the onset of
But all of that is wiped out in a single careless moment for
the nearly 150 Israeli children killed in preventable accidents in an average
That does not include the 500 children injured daily and rushed to
hospital emergency rooms, and 24,000 hospitalized annually after being hurt at
home or its environs, in schools and on the roads.
youngsters have died in missile and rocket attacks on the border with Gaza – but
the number of children killed in accidents would fill up three buses in a single
A week ago, the cabinet unanimously approved launching a plan to
establish a comprehensive national program for preventing children’s injuries
and reducing the number of accidental deaths by 35 percent by
Prepared in coordination with the World Health Organization and the
European Union, which are involved in the world effort to save children from
unintentional harm, the plan was first publicly announced 10 days ago at the
First Child Safety Conference, organized by Beterem (the National Center for
Child Safety and Health). An impressive 1,000 doctors, nurses, engineers,
educators, local authority representatives and others attended the all-day
conference – the first of its kind – at the Jerusalem International Convention
Beterem was established in 1995 at the Schneider Children’s
Medical Center in Petah Tikva when Prof. Yehuda Danon, founder and director-
general of the hospital, and Dr. Michal Hemmo- Lotem, a staff pediatrician, were
shocked by the high percentage of otherwise healthy children being admitted to
emergency rooms and hospitalized for a variety of injuries. They set up the
organization for the sole purpose of saving children from everyday injuries,
with Hemmo-Lotem at its head.
Child deaths from accidents have declined
by 30% since Beterem opened, but that is not enough, according to the
organization’s current director, Orly Silbinger.
The day before the
conference, the problem of preventable child accidents came to the fore with the
death of a two-and-a-half-year-old child of Ethiopian immigrants, whose two-room
Rosh Ha’ayin apartment burned down, apparently due to an electrical failure. Her
father was seriously injured while acting as a human shield to save her. She was
one of a number of children who have tragically suffered death or injury in home
Among the video clips shown at the conference was one of a modern
Orthodox mother who recounted how her infant son had been badly burned in a bath
of scalding water that her professional childcare provider had
He suffered excruciating pain and spent many weeks in the
hospital’s intensive care unit. Today, he has fortunately healed, but many
babies have not been so lucky, as skin burns leading to infections are often
deadly. Legislation that Beterem has initiated requires the installation of
simple devices in new buildings to prevent water heaters from reaching beyond
A highlighted invited guest from abroad was Kate Carr, head of Safe
Kids Worldwide, a roof body of 22 national organizations for child accident
prevention of which Beterem is a valued member.
Some 2,000 children a day
or 570,000 children around the globe die each year of needless accidents. Since
Safe Kids was founded in the US almost 25 years ago, deaths have declined by
21%, Carr said.
She noted that the world body collects good, workable
ideas and disseminates them among members to fight accidents.
that Beterem passed on was inspired by the recognition that when a child has
been injured in an accident, this is likely to happen again. As the parents are
a “captive audience” while their children are hospitalized, Beterem encouraged
giving them lessons on how to prevent further accidents, injury and death. This
“bedside education” has been adopted in the US, Australia, New Zealand and
“We are constantly sharing good ideas and interventions that
work,” said Carr. “We have a research unit, but there is no single solution that
can protect all kids.”
Beterem’s chairman is Ofer Neeman, who until 2005
was CEO and president of the leading private equity firm Evergreen. “It is good
to see so many people here who care about accident prevention,” he said. “But I
have criticism – not of you. There are still too many deaths and
Israel can make big changes if it just wants to and devotes the
resources to them. Children and their parents learned not to pluck and destroy
wild flowers [in a campaign during the 1980s]. Why not do this with children?”
Until the cabinet session on the new prevention plan, he added, no Israeli
government had ever discussed children’s accidents.
Jerusalem Mayor Nir
Barkat said that from his experience in hi-tech, he knew that bringing about
change required partnerships, as well as caring, devoted people to
“First, amass collective wisdom from around the world and then
develop programs suited to Israel. This is what we did with the light rail,”
which was over a decade in the works and finally accepted passengers at the end
of last August. Though experts predicted that dozens of people, including
children, might be killed and injured during its first year of operation, this
has not happened.
The impressive safety record, Barkat said, along with a
persuasive video showing teachers in action, was thanks to an organized effort
that reached children in 93% of the city’s kindergartens and schools – secular,
modern Orthodox, haredi and Arab.
“We reached 12% of the city’s
population – nearly all the children – for this,” said Danny Bar-Giora, head of
the Jerusalem Education Administration.
“We built a curriculum specially
for this task of introducing the light rail and safety rules to kids from
kindergarten through 12th grade,” he continued. “It was suited to the culture
and understanding of the different sectors.
Booklets in Hebrew and Arabic
were produced to follow up lessons on crossing intersections, staying away from
the rails and other safety tips. Kindergarten teachers combined the lessons with
music to make it catch the non-reading youngsters’ attention and keep it in
Kadima MK Ze’ev Bielski, formerly a longtime mayor of
Ra’anana, recalled receiving a suggestion that the Ra’anana Municipality make a
gift of simple pieces of plastic that could be inserted safely into electrical
outlets to prevent young children from sticking things into them and being
electrocuted. He was also shown rails for bathtubs and showers that could
prevent the elderly from slipping, falling and breaking bones.
distributed them, and the number of injuries from these accidents dropped,” said
the MK. “As a legislator, I will do all I can to push legislation to reduce
accidents when there is no other way to accomplish it.”
Rolider, an expert in the analysis and treatment of child behavior who appears
often on TV, said it was hard for him to accept the concept of “unintentional
Why, he asked, do parents buy four-wheeled electric vehicles for
young children to ride? Why do parents put their children in the back seat of
the car without seat belts? “Many parents are arrogant. Why do so many
Israeli parents allow their young children to come home from school alone,
opening the door with their own key? They know what’s right, but don’t do it,”
he said sternly.
The head of the National Road Safety Authority, Ron
Moskovich, noted that Arab children are proportionately more likely than others
to be hurt and killed in accidents.
One of the most frequent accident
scenarios in this sector is an adult running over a child while reversing the
family vehicle into the road.
“We ran a door-to-door pilot program in
Arab towns to teach parents about avoiding these risks,” he said. “It
dramatically reduced such accidents. Now we are expanding it in the North
and South with the help of Beterem.”
Dr. Yuval Weiss, director of the
Hadassah University Medical Center in Jerusalem’s Ein Kerem neighborhood,
described an ongoing project at his hospital to ensure that all newborns are
discharged and taken home safely.
“We teach all parents about the
importance of safety seats,” he explained. “Most haredim and Arabs do not have
their own cars, so they take the baby home in a taxi.
We arranged for all
the taxis at the station on campus to have an infant car seat – donated by the
Shilav company – and insist it be used every time.”
director-general, Anat Levin, said the firm was the first to adopt safety as
“its DNA affecting everything we do.” The baby goods supply company initiates
legislation and lobbies the National Standards Institution to set standards for
all baby products, she said.
“And we have an internal standards system in
which everything we sell is first checked to make sure it is safe.
an example for our competitors,” she said.
Rada Zuabi, the manager of the
Arabic-language website Bukra, said that as a relatively poor population with
large families, the Arab sector has many child injuries and deaths.
the 500 emergency room visits daily, many of them are Arab children,” she
But Internet is now very important among Israeli Arabs. “We are
not just a source of information, but we also initiate. We recently organized a
discussion with families who lost children to accidents. We know that cases of
small children getting killed when cars reverse into the street is the result of
many Arab homes having no driveways to separate homes from the road,” Zuabi
said. “The general Israeli media almost never discuss accidents in the Arab
community. I am also upset with Arab MKs who don’t put child safety as top
priority in Knesset activities.”
Children in the haredi sector also
suffer a large number of accidents. Rabbi Ya’acov Asher, mayor of the country’s
largest haredi city, Bnei Brak, admitted this, but described programs to fight
the phenomenon: “We work before Purim educating families to prevent children
from using cap pistols and explosives that can harm their eyes and ears and
cause burns. Before Pessah, we instruct them to avoid leaving around toxic
cleaning products and standing water that can result in
Enforcement is needed, said the mayor, “but first one needs
Our population reads books, so they can get safety
information from them. Recently, the municipality taught the importance of
recycling. But we have to use messages understandable to the haredi
For instance, the mayor said, this sector would not
comprehend the public service ad in which comedian Tal Friedman has grass
growing from his head. “They would think he had been electrocuted and his hair
was standing on end. Every message must be suited to the population.”
news media also expressed some mea culpa.
Some senior journalists,
editors and publishers admitted that accident deaths of Arabs, residents of the
periphery, the poor and those “not from north Tel Aviv” are rarely
They called on the media to “prevent deaths by dealing sometimes
with boring subjects” and to cover the causes behind events in addition to