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More Israeli children than ever are suffering from divorce, poverty, abuse, neglect, trauma and crime, according to the annual report published Wednesday by the National Council for the Child.
"For many children in Israel, life is really, really bad and nothing is done to help them," said council director Dr. Yitzhak Kadman in an interview with The Jerusalem Post. "It has not always been like that. Twenty years ago, for example, only eight percent of the child population lived under the poverty line; today that figure is 33%."
Kadman presented the report, which puts Israel's child population at 2,326,400 or 33% of the total population, to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert Wednesday.
"He promised millions of shekels to help children at risk and to improve early childhood education, including protecting the Tipat Halav system [early development health clinics]," said Kadman of his meeting with Olmert. "I hope the prime minister means what he says. We just can't continue on like this. Instead of helping children whose life is really bad, most people just see a growth in the number of bad or violent kids."
Kadman highlighted the extraordinary rise in the number of what he called "Israel's invisible children," or those who live in Israel without citizenship and are therefore not afforded the same rights and services as other children. In its report, the council found that the number of such children, which includes offspring of foreign workers without citizenship, has grown 17.1% since 2001 to 152,657, or roughly 6.6% of the entire child population in Israel.
He also pointed out the rise in children of divorce from 7,309 in 2000 to 13,000 children in 2005.
"There is no culture of divorced families in Israel," he commented. "And as usual, Israelis take it to the extreme and many divorce wars are fought on the backs of the children. There are no services or treatment to counsel children in such situations."
Kadman said it was impossible to pinpoint one particularly disturbing statistic. Instead, he said, the picture had to be examined as a whole in order to see the shameful poverty and growing educational gaps between stronger and weaker elements in society.
According to the 540-page report, one-third of Israel's children (826,000) lived below the poverty line in 2005, a rise from 33.2% last year, with children making up 55% of the population in weaker socioeconomic neighborhoods.
Of the children from those poorer communities, only 8% passed their matriculation exams, compared to 70 or 80% in more affluent neighborhoods.
Another alarming statistic raised by the report was the growing number of Israeli children who are considered at risk. In 2006, 17% of all Israeli children (382,592) were treated by social services, with 62,273 of them considered at risk from physical, sexual, emotional abuse or neglect.
Aside from abuse and neglect from within the family, Kadman also pointed to the plight of children subjected to daily Kassam rocket attacks in Sderot and to the trauma experienced by children who were forced to leave their homes during the 2005 disengagement from Gaza. "No one is treating them," he said.
"A hungry child, a sexually abused child, a child who flunks out of school won't be a successful adult," said Kadman. "The country's policymakers have to work on making some serious changes for Israel's children."