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While the Israeli government and media focus on the conflict with the Palestinians, many day-to-day issues concerning the rights of the country's children are being overshadowed, according to the chairperson of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.
Prof. Jaap E. Doek told The Jerusalem Post in an interview on Tuesday that "children in Israel deserve the attention that every child in every country deserves. Of course the current conflict between Israel and Palestine should be addressed, but it should not result in ignoring the daily life of the Israeli child."
Doek, who spoke Monday at the National Convention on the Rights of the Child being held this week at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, told the Post that Israel's efforts overall to raise awareness of children's rights here were commendable.
"There is a lot of good things happening in Israel," he said, highlighting the work of non-government organizations and academia to raise awareness and improve legislation to protect children's rights.
However, Doek said that the growing number of children living below the poverty line, the large number of children of refugees and foreign workers denied basic citizen rights and reform of the juvenile penal system all had to be addressed along with the needs of children living in areas directly affected by the conflict.
"If you listen to the people in Israel and read about what is happening in the media, the conflict continually hangs in the air," admitted Doek, a law professor at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam, who has chaired the committee since 2001.
Doek also pinpointed three distinct areas here that need more focus: the status of the refugee child, violence against children- both within the family and outside of that unit- and poverty.
The issue of the status of children of refugees and foreign workers, he said, is not a problem unique to Israel and one of the committee's main goals is to push all countries party to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child to address it.
"The point is that the states in question do have the right to decide who will stay and who will go, but the waiting process leaves many children in limbo - they cannot attend school, some live with their parents in secured facilities that are like prisons," said Doek.
"The committee is of the opinion that this treatment is in direct violation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which requires states to ensure that every child on its territory enjoys the same rights."
Doek also said that Israel needed to address corporal punishment in society and parents' right to discipline their children with the use of violence.
"Violence against children and poverty are the main obstacles to ensuring that children enjoy their rights the same way as other human beings," said Doek, who has been attempting for the past 20 years to implement legislation to prevent parents from smacking their children.
"Unfortunately, even though the family is supposed to be the safest place for children, most acts of violence take place within that unit," he said, emphasizing that more countries, including Israel, need to facilitate a system whereby it is unacceptable for parents to hit their children under any circumstances.
"We need to teach children that every form of violence is unacceptable," said Doek. "There is a degree of respect that we must give children as human beings."
He continued: "It may look like a trivial matter, especially in the middle of an armed conflict, to raise the issue of corporal punishment. Obviously we should be looking at how to protect children from the conflict. But, at the same time, we cannot ignore the fundamental principals of children's rights."
While Doek said Israel's efforts in this field rated high compared to many other UN countries, he also noted that Israel needed to make more efforts to protect the rights of children living in the Palestinian territories.
In the context of the committee, Doek said that because Palestine is not a recognized country in UN terms and is not a signatory to the convention, its only formal access to Palestinian children was via the Israeli government.
"We are looking for ways to reach the Palestinian government and ultimately improve the situation for Palestinian children," he commented.
"We already have had contact with Palestinian NGOs and were scheduled to visit there this month, however because of the factional fighting between Hamas and Fatah our visit had to be postponed."
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