Mass demonstrations took place across Israel on Sunday night, following the indictment of 25-year-old Carmel Mauda on 18 counts of abuse and assault of infants and toddlers in her care. Until her arrest last month, Mauda had been running the “Baby Love” preschool, a private creche she co-owned with her father near the family home in Rosh Ha’ayin.
Luckily for police, who were tipped off about Mauda’s cruelty by aides she had fired, the daycare facility was equipped with surveillance cameras, oddly installed by the perpetrator herself. The shocking footage obtained by investigators provided the kind of irrefutable evidence that made it simple for them to extract a confession from the suspect, who initially denied any wrongdoing.
When confronted with one of the videos in which she is seen angrily flinging a baby, by his outstretched arms, into a crib, Mauda said, “That day, I was in a black funk.”
When questioned about another scene, showing her tying a toddler’s hands behind his back – a regular practice that she later admitted lasted from minutes to hours – she acknowledged having been “satanic.”
It was an apt self-description, given the heinous acts she committed on a daily basis. These included dragging a boy strapped to a chair by his head and shoving him up to a table, virtually crushing his abdomen in the process. This child, as it happens, was born with one kidney, making him even more vulnerable to such an attack.
Mauda is also charged with sitting on the babies and toddlers, while covering their heads with blankets, to keep them from moving when she was trying to put them down for a nap.
Among other crimes, she would make the children stand with their faces to the wall for extended periods of time; she whipped them with cloth diapers; she slapped, pinched and shook them violently; and tugged them by their noses and mouths, blocking their airways.
In one case, she forced a toddler to eat his own vomit.
WHEN MAUDA’S sadistic behavior was revealed to the parents, all of whom understandably broke down while viewing the videos, they were in shock. One mother explained that she had chosen Mauda’s daycare center, after visiting many others, because of the young woman’s “passion.”
Another said that Mauda occasionally phoned her child in the evening via video-chat to wish her goodnight.
In retrospect, each story – such as believing Mauda when she claimed that bruises or scratches on the kids were a result of their having fallen down while playing – took on a new and dastardly meaning for the parents, who have been feeling both guilt-ridden and enraged for weeks.
It is thus that when a fire nearly burned down the Mauda family home on Saturday night, police assumed it was an act of revenge committed or commissioned by one or more of the traumatized parents of the abused children. An investigation, which concluded that the blaze had indeed been sparked by an arsonist, led to the arrest of an 18-year-old suspect, with some relation to a victim of Mauda’s.
Meanwhile, police have detained Mauda’s parents and a teacher’s aide as possible accessories to her abuse, if not active participants in them. Astonishingly, on Friday, a day after the fire and a few days prior to his interrogation, Mauda’s father, Mordechai – who appears in the incriminating CCTV footage as having been present during some of his daughter’s assaults – had the gall to submit a request to police to reopen the shuttered daycare center for business. Thankfully, his request was denied. The police, it turned out, already had asked the Labor and Welfare Ministry to close the place down for good.
WHICH BRINGS us to the impetus for the countrywide protests spurred by Mauda’s case, the latest child-abuse scandal involving an unsupervised care-giver of victims too young to verbalize their pleas for help.
The 1949 Compulsory Education Law – which applied until four years ago to all children between the ages of three and 15, but provided free education only from age five – was extended in 2015 to provide free education to those between three and five, as well. This means that kids from the age of three now are under the purview of the Education Ministry, even those who attend private, often expensive, frameworks opted by parents seeking cushier conditions for their kids.
Still, the Education Ministry is responsible for supervising the teachers of all of the above children.
But the care for babies, from birth to the age of three, is completely unsupervised, except in daycare centers run by organizations such as Na’amat and WIZO, which function under the auspices of the Labor and Welfare Ministry. Again, however, many parents do not send their toddlers to those institutions, preferring to pay for care that is private, but not as prohibitive as the price of hiring a nanny. The problem is that such establishments are not vetted or monitored at all; nor do the people who run them need any form of education or license.
This situation is especially paradoxical in Israel, a state that cherishes children, on one hand, and makes it bureaucratically difficult for small businesses to operate, on the other. In other words, Mauda would have had a harder time hanging a shingle on a food truck than on declaring herself a nursery-school teacher and tending to other people’s babies.
As soon as Mauda’s horror show came to light, then, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that the care of 0-3-year-olds would be placed under Education Ministry auspices, and that cameras would be installed in all daycare facilities. His key rival in the upcoming September 17 Knesset elections, Blue and White Party leader Benny Gantz, also chimed in, insisting that “when” he becomes prime minister, he would make early childhood care a priority.
Naturally, the issue immediately arouse of where the government, whoever ends up heading it, intends to find the multi-billions of shekels per year to fund the project. You know, since the coffers are pretty much bare.
THE ANSWER, as always, is higher taxes. Nobody is really pointing this out, of course, including not the protesting parents, some of whom might be able to afford to stay at home for a couple of years with their babies – or to hire a nanny – if their paychecks were both commensurate with their jobs and not shamelessly raided by the very government they are calling on to protect them from the likes of Mauda.
It’s a familiar Israeli catch-22. Yet, for some odd reason, many Israelis continue to seek socialist solutions to problems that socialism created in the first place.
More unfathomable is the fact that the people most furious with the government for being inefficient and useless, at best, and corrupt and evil, at worst, are always the ones screaming the loudest for government intervention. Yes, the very left-wingers working tirelessly to oust Netanyahu believe that he has failed at heading a proper nanny state.
Ironically, the opposite is true. Netanyahu’s domestic-policy shortcomings are due to his inability, so far, to have freed the economy sufficiently.
No political argument is or should be of interest at the moment to the devastated parents of Mauda’s victims or to other mothers and fathers now terrified about the possibility that similar atrocities are going on behind their own backs. It will take a long period of healing to wrest our collective paranoia on this score.
In the meantime, there are measures that individuals can take upon themselves to monitor the activities of unlicensed baby-minders. Parents, grandparents or simply concerned citizens in communities throughout the country could volunteer to pay surprise visits to private daycare centers, for example. Additionally, parents must be hyper-observant when it comes to their toddlers’ behavior, to notice mood changes, developmental regression, excessive crying, night terrors or altered eating habits.
As for those currently examining daycare options: they need to receive and follow through on references and recommendations from other parents and previous employers.
It is time for us to get it through our heads that there is no substitute for initiative and personal responsibility. The state cannot, nor should be, our nanny. Just look at its poor babysitting track record.
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