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Child injuries in Israel fell by 30 percent in the years 1997-2003, according to the annual report on Child Injuries in Israel released Tuesday by Beterem, the National Center for Children's Safety and Health.
Presenting the report to a joint Knesset session of the Committee on Rights of the Child and the Education, Culture, and Sports Committee, Beterem representatives said they were pleased to see such a reduction in serious injuries to children but cautioned that the figures compiled for the organization's 2006 report were still alarming.
According to the report, between the years 1997-2003, 170 children under the age of 17 died each year as a result of injury, compared to 216 a year in the period 1995-1997. More than 24,000 were hospitalized per year between 1997-2003 and about 185,000 visited the emergency room. The report also found that the overwhelming majority of injuries - some 88% of deaths from injury and 93% of hospitalizations - were the result of accidents and only a small minority of injuries were the result of violence or were self-inflicted.
MK Michael Melchior (Labor), head of the Education, Culture and Sports Committee, who cochaired the meeting with Rights of the Child committee head MK Shelly Yacimovich, told those gathered that, "an injury to a child does not happen out of the blue. Every child injured destroys that child's world and needs to be made the focus of our world."
Beterem founding director Professor Yehuda Danon, head of the Israel Pediatrics Society, told committee members that, while falling figures are encouraging, "we are still talking about four full classes of first-grade students." He said it was the responsibility of parents to protect their children but emphasized that they should be offered better guidance by professionals in hospitals, especially immediately after their child is born.
The non-profit organization's current director, Dr. Michal Hemmo-Lotem introduced the report by saying that education and guidance was not enough; rather, there needed to be serious changes in government policy and government ministries across the board needed to work together to ensure the safety of Israel's children.
Knesset members at the meeting such as Dov Henin (Hadash), Ronit Tirosh (Kadima) and Alex Miller (Israel Beiteinu) echoed Hemmo-Lotem's demands for further legislation and cooperation between the ministries.
Arab MKs Nadia Hilu (Labor) and Abbas Zakour (UAL-Ta'al) emphasized the report's finding that the 1997-2003 mortality rate for Arab children aged 0-17 was three times higher than that among the Jewish population.
Zakour made reference to Monday's tragedy in the South, where a Beduin child lost his life after putting his head out of the window of a moving school bus that was not equipped with seat belts. "How was this bus operating without any checks?" Zakour asked the committee.
"Thousands of Arab children in Israel are unsupervised every day, they have nowhere to go for recreation and end up frequenting cafes where they get involved in drugs," he added.
The report also highlighted that the main cause of death from injury in children during the years 1998-2000 was from road-related accidents.
Pedestrian injury accounted for 21.3% and traffic accidents 19.6%, while accidents such as suffocation made up 6.8% and drowning 4.8%. The most frequent reasons for hospitalization during the same period were from falls (38.4%), road accidents (13.1%) and poisoning (8.8%).
In conclusion, the Beterem report pointed out that, aside from the physical and emotional damage caused by such deaths and injuries, there are also vast financial costs of medical treatment. Over the years 2000-2004, such costs exceeded NIS 515 million.
"It does not have to cost much to increase awareness and education of parents," said Melchior during the meeting. "In fact, it could even save money as well as lives."
In summation, Melchior thanked Beterem for all its work in saving the lives of children. He said that the committee would speak with the finance committee before the 2007 budget was finalized to see that funds are allocated to the Education Ministry, the Health Ministry, and the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry to further this cause.