Knesset urged to raise minimum age for leaving child alone

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June 14, 2010 11:00
3 minute read.

 
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will be forbidden to leave children under nine years old alone and unsupervised – instead of the current six years – if the National Council for Children Safety and Health (Beterem) persuades the Knesset to raise the age limit.

The issue will be discussed by the Labor, Social Affairs and Health Committee on Tuesday, and Beterem director- general Orly Silbinger will voice the voluntary organization’s position. In the US and Canada, for example, a child may not be left alone and unsupervised below age 10 to 13, depending on the state.

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Every year, 50,000 children aged five to nine years are treated in hospital emergency rooms following injury, mostly in home accidents, though it is not known how many of them were left alone without adult supervision. Injuries occurred from falling from heights, fires, burns, poisoning, gas leaks, cuts, wandering alone in the streets and being left in a vehicle, among others.

At present, the punishment for negligence that endangered or significantly hurt, or was liable to significantly hurt, a child is three years in prison; If the adult intended to abandon his or her child, the punishment is five years’ imprisonment.

These were just a few recent cases: • A father in the center of the country left his six-year-old daughter alone at home without a key. She cried, alerting the neighbors who called the police. They broke into the home and found that she had climbed onto the countertop, broken the gas range and caused a gas leak.

• A neighbor in the north of the country heard a threeyear- old boy crying. The police broke into the apartment and found the toddler alone after his mother had gone to Haifa to study.

• An 18-month-old boy was found wandering alone in the street in the North. His mother arrived soon after, saying she had not noticed that he had left the apartment.



• A resident in the center of the country called the municipal security department after he saw a girl climbing on the railings of her home balcony and was about to fall. The Fire and Rescue Service arrived in time and removed three children who had been left alone behind a locked door.

• A father in the South forgot to take his year-old daughter to her day care center and then went off to work. The mother found her unconscious three hours later, and the baby was taken in serious condition to the hospital.

Comparing a 2008 survey conducted among a representative sample of Israeli Jewish parents to a similar survey in 2001, Beterem found there had been a significantly fewer people were aware that it is forbidden to leave young children alone and unsupervised.

The same was true about the age when children can be allowed to cross the street by themselves (age nine).

A large majority knew that it was dangerous to leave a child in a public pool unsupervised.

But more than a third said that was “the lifeguard’s job.”

According to the 2008 survey of 700 Jewish parents, 53 percent said one parent remains at home with young children during the school vacation; the rate was higher among parents with a very low income (76%) and among the religious (64%).

Twenty-nine percent said grandparents or other relatives take care of young children during the vacation, while others said they went to a summer camp or educational framework or had a teenage or adult babysitter.

A 2009 Beterem survey of the Arab sector found that 45% do or would leave children under 12 alone at home, and 28% do not or would not do so.

Child safety experts note that youngsters don’t understand that they can be injured or the finality of death. They are also less aware of dangerous situations and are unable to properly judge the actual distance of a car from where they are. Youngsters may also be impulsive.

Silbinger urges parents of children older than nine to be prepared by parents for remaining alone by putting dangerous objects away; teaching them how to use heaters, electricity and gas; showing how to leave the home and building; insisting that the door never be opened for strangers; leaving prepared food that does not need to be warmed up; and supplying emergency and relatives’ or neighbors’ phone numbers.

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