A man in Jerusalem searching through the garbage.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Israel has the highest level of inequality among children in the world’s 41 most developed countries, according to a United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) report released Thursday. The report cited Israel’s 27.5 percent rate of child poverty as the highest among the countries ranked, surpassing Mexico and Chile.
The report, “Fairness for Children: A league table of inequality in child well-being in rich countries,” documents inequalities in child well-being among the countries of the European Union and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.
Examining inequality in four key domains of child well-being – income, education, health and life satisfaction – the report focuses on how far children at the bottom 10% are allowed to fall behind the average child in each nation.
“Understanding the differences among countries in how far the most disadvantaged children fall behind their average peers can provide some insight into the conditions or interventions that may help to reduce the gaps,” said Dr.
Sarah Cook, director of UNICEF’s Innocenti Research Center in Florence, Italy.
In terms of income inequality, Israel ranked 37 out of 41 countries – meaning that the household income of a child at the bottom 10th percentile is 64.58% lower than that of the average child (who falls in the middle of the income distribution).
With regard to education, Israel also ranked among the bottom countries with both the highest achievement gaps as well as a large proportion of 15-year-old students who achieved below proficiency in reading, math and science literacy.
Israel ranked last in health inequality, whereby the health score of children at the bottom of the distribution is 38.9% lower than that of the average child. In addition, Israel also had a high rate of children, some 30%, who reported one or more health symptom every day.
With regard to inequality in life satisfaction, Israel again placed in the bottom five countries, ranking 31 out of 35, whereby the life satisfaction for children at the bottom is 30% lower than for the average child.
“As concern with high levels of inequality rises on the global policy agenda, our understanding of the long term impacts of inequality is also growing: what happens to children has life-long and even intergenerational consequences,” said Cook.
“Any serious efforts to reduce inequality must place priority on children’s well-being today and ensure that all children are given opportunities to achieve their potential,” she said.
Israeli politicians were quick to respond to the UNICEF report’s findings.
Knesset Committee on Children’s Rights chairman Yifat Shasha-Bitton (Kulanu) said she found the report disconcerting, but that Finance Minister and Kulanu leader Moshe Kahlon made fighting poverty a priority.
“We will continue to do all we can to make sure children in Israel and their family’s conditions will improve and be a source of pride,” she stated.
Knesset Labor, Welfare and Health Committee chairman Eli Alalouf (Kulanu) said he plans to call a meeting about the UNICEF report.
“The report is shocking, and we must discuss it as soon as possible,” Alalouf said.
MK Dov Henin (Joint List) said that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s policies are “endangering children’s lives.”
“The poverty rate among Israeli children… is not our fate; it’s the result of a policy. Whoever cuts welfare services, privatizes the education system and dries out public health is knowingly leading to a reality in which children go to school hungry and parents have difficulty finding the money to pay for children’s dental care or textbooks,” Henin said.