Israel's children suffering more than ever

On eve of 60th anniversary, report shows one in every three kids below poverty line.

poor kids crying 298.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
poor kids crying 298.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
As Israel approaches its 60th anniversary, the country's children are suffering more than ever. The budget cuts of recent years and widening social gaps are causing increased polarization between those from rich and poor families, according to Dr. Yitzhak Kadman, director of the National Council for the Child, which released its 16th annual report on the status of Israel's next generation on Sunday. "The status of Israeli children in 2007 is very harsh," he told The Jerusalem Post shortly before presenting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, President Shimon Peres and relevant government ministers with a copy of the document. The report examines the plight of children from different aspects, including education, health and economic. "There have been major financial cuts in child-welfare benefits, health coverage and education since 2000," Kadman said, pointing out that government spending per child had fallen to NIS 13,000 in 2005 from NIS 16,000 in 2000. "It seems like we are following a clear downward path, and whoever believes that there will be a sudden miracle to save the country's children is simply dreaming," he said. Perhaps the most disturbing data revealed in the report is the confirmation that every third Israeli child lives below the poverty line, as well as many more whose families collect state benefits. The document also shows a dramatic rise in child abuse cases in the last decade, with close to 10,000 abuse cases being opened by social workers in 2004, compared to 6,370 in 1998. In addition, there has been a significant drop in the overall percentage of children compared to adults among the total population, highlighted Kadman. Whereas in 1970, children made up 39.2 percent of the population, in 2006, there were 2,365,800 children of all faiths, which comprised 33.2%. In 2000, children were 33.8% of the population. "Today there are definitely less children than in the past, and that means that we need to invest more into them so that they can sustain the future of this country," Kadman said. "If we don't invest in every child there will be no future for this country." He is planning to translate the document into English next year and distribute it worldwide. Kadman highlighted the recent struggles of the education system, in which the secondary school teachers were on strike for nearly two months. "What seems to have slipped everyone's attention is that overall there is going to be a NIS 375 million budget cut to the Education Ministry," he said, adding that it was likely the funds to sustain the teachers' pay increase would come at the expense of services to weaker students. Another disturbing statistic, Kadman said, was the dramatic rise in the number of children from either broken homes or being raised by one parent. In 2006, notes the report, 8.5% of families were considered single-parent, compared to 6.8% in 1995. Furthermore, during 2006 an additional 14,344 children saw their parents divorce. Overall, 138,138 children in 2006 were being raised by divorced parents. "Obviously not all single-parent families are struggling," he said. "However, there is no doubt that it is problematic for one parent to take on the responsibility of raising a child [or children] alone. They have one salary and all the pressure on their shoulders." Kadman said it was impossible to pinpoint one particularly disturbing statistic, instead 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. "This situation cannot be fixed by one minister," he said, when asked whether having a Welfare and Social Services minister this year, as opposed to last year, would make any difference. "It is something that everyone needs to be involved in - from Health and Social Welfare to Education and even Industry, Trade and Labor."