Israeli children poorer, more neglected

Israeli children poorer,

peres teens 248.88 (photo credit: Yossi Avi Yair Angel)
peres teens 248.88
(photo credit: Yossi Avi Yair Angel)
"It's time to look at children as an asset worth investing in and not as a budgetary expenditure," Dr. Yitzhak Kadman, head of the National Council for the Welfare of the Child told President Shimon Peres on Wednesday after presenting him with the 18th annual report of the status of the child in Israel. Kadman painted a very bleak picture of rising statistics in child abuse and neglect and declared that instead of improvements in the status of the child between the publication of the first report and the current report, the situation had become drastically worse. Asher Ben Aryeh the editor of the 662-page report, noted that a third of Israel's population comprises children up to the age of 18. "Their situation is not good. It's even bad." Ben Aryeh attributed this in part to what he called "the dramatic growth" of single parent families, particularly among new immigrants. In 1995, there were 132,000 children in single parent households. The number has increased annually, soaring to 208,908 in 2008. Where there had been divorces, there had often been crises leaving children in a state of trauma he said, and where women without a male partner had opted to have babies, the family income was usually very low and it was difficult to make ends meet and to provide sufficiently for the needs of the child. In 2008 alone, the parents of 14,147 children got divorced. In 1990 the figure was 7,309. Ben Aryeh also deplored the inadequacy of neighborhood health care facilities. Over the past year some 550,000 children were taken to hospital emergency rooms, he said. In most cases this was unnecessary and could have been avoided if there were more neighborhood health clinics. Some 200,000 children were treated for injuries resulting from accidents in or around the home. Many of these occurred because children had fallen from windows that had no bars or from open staircases. At the end of 2008, there were 2,453,140 children living in Israel. Of these, files for 400,000 had been opened by social workers, and 800,000 could be categorized as children at risk, he said. But the picture is not entirely black, he observed. There has been a drop in juvenile crime and a decline of more than 10 percent in the number of children hurt in traffic accidents, which indicates that the public has become more alert on this issue. There is also a very high rate of voluntarism among children and youth. On the other hand, said Ben Aryeh, adults do not properly discharge their duties to children and often blame them for things that are not their fault. He cited as a prime example under-achievement in studies. Very few children can do well at school, he pointed out, when their classrooms are overcrowded and teachers can't give sufficient or sometimes any individual attention to each child. Kadman observed that at least 50% of children with criminal records have at least one parent with a criminal record. He emphasized that in order to properly understand the needs of children and youth, organizations operating on their behalf had to work with them and make them partners in endeavor. The annual Beersheba conference for the welfare of the child, scheduled for February 2010, is being organized with youth as members of the steering committee, he said. Two of these young people - Alisa Ussinski who attends the Boyer School in Jerusalem and Ossama Bakri, a student at the Hotel School in Atarot, an outer suburb of Jerusalem - were present. Ussinski spoke to Peres about child victims of sexual abuse and said that in 80% of cases, abuse took place within the family and the perpetrators were usually siblings. Although the law says that all cases of sexual abuse against children must be reported to the police, this law was frequently ignored because parents on discovering such incidents were torn between the two children involved, and while they often did everything to support the abused child, the victim often felt guilty, because he or she might inadvertently be responsible for a sibling getting into trouble. Ussinski suggested that the law should be amended so that anyone reporting sexual abuse of children should do so to a social worker who would then examine the case and decide whether the perpetrator should be sent to rehabilitative therapy, or whether the matter should be reported to the police. In the latter instance, the social worker would report to the police. The report presented to Peres cited 8,612 children under the age of 14 who had been sexually abused during 2008 and were questioned by special investigators who deal with juveniles. In 1990 the number was 1,247, rising significantly each year to 7,770 in 2007. Peres was very interested in Ussinski's proposal and told her whom to contact in the Knesset in order to implement the necessary changes in the law. Bakri said that Arab students tend to be moved from school to school and have to contend with security checkpoints in addition to family poverty. Some ultimately drop out, a factor that leads to crime and violence. He too had been moved from school to school he said, and the lack of educational stability had a negative affect on his grades. He was thinking of dropping out when an education counsellor suggested that he go to a trade school to acquire a profession that would enable him to earn a wage. The idea appealed to him and he enrolled. The only thing he has against the school is that it takes him an hour to get there from his home in the Old City of Jerusalem. Peres expressed shock at the length of the journey. Freda Feigelson, the director of the Schusterman Crisis Center in Jerusalem praised the report for the vital information it contains, especially with regard to victims of neglect or violence, noting that 114,000 children were victims of violence. The Israeli public has become more sensitive to child abuse than it used to be, she acknowledged, but there is little awareness of neglect. Some 14,000 children are victims of neglect, said Feigelson. They do not receive the most elementary of services. Babies are sometimes left in their cribs for hours without any sustenance or diaper change. "This can have irreversible effects," she asserted. The protection and rights of the child are issues that constantly have to be addressed anew, said Peres. Since becoming president, he continued, he had learned things about neglect and violence that he never imagined could occur in Israel. From what he understood, one of the central factors in the welfare of the child was family income. It was therefore vital to get more low income sectors such as single parents, the Arab sector and the haredi community involved in high-tech training so that they could get better paid jobs. Peres also advocated that higher education must be made available to all young people in every sector of society so that in a relatively short space of time, nearly every young adult will have at least a BA degree. Of the total number of children in Israel, 69.2% are Jews; 24.2% are Muslim, 1.8% are Christian, 1.9% are Druse and 2.9% indicate no affiliation. As of April this year, 145,855 children resident in Israel have no legal status, an increase of 16.9% compared to 2001. Seventy-four percent of these children live in east Jerusalem.