Number of homeless female teenagers soar

Preventing young women from being sucked into the sex industry is an extremely difficult task, says Elem report.

TA night 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
TA night 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
The number of teenage girls living on Israel's streets has dramatically increased in the last three years and preventing the young women from being sucked into the sex industry is an extremely difficult task, according to the annual report published Tuesday by non-profit organization Elem, which helps youth at risk through a variety of programs. More than 25% of all homeless youth in 2007 were girls, found the report, compared to 15% in 2004. In general, the report pointed to a 5% rise in 2007 in the number of youths either homeless or wandering Israel's streets late at night while their parents worked or due to strained relations at home. The organization estimated that in 2007 it provided programs or temporary shelter to roughly 32,000 youths in some 30 locations countrywide, with some of the children being as young as 10. "Elem cannot deal with this problem by itself," Tzion Gabai, the organization's director, told The Jerusalem Post. "We are the voice of troubled Israeli youth and will raise awareness to the plight of youth at risk, but this is an issue for all of Israeli society." The report, which was presented Tuesday to Minister of Welfare and Social Services Isaac Herzog, was released in time for the launch of Elem's annual fundraising campaign. Called "Lights of Hope," the campaign will turn to the public requesting people to send a financial donation via text message and "light up" one of 600,000 light bulbs on an enormous Star of David flag raised Tuesday night on the side of the Azrieli Center's square building in Tel Aviv. Gabai said that three main issues were raised by this year's report: the fall in age of those found roaming the streets at night; the large proportion of transient immigrant youth and the rise in the number of teenage girls living on the streets. "We are talking about girls aged 17-25 who, because they have nowhere to sleep will go home with a man just so they have a roof over their heads," explained Gabai, highlighting that 99% of young homeless females are eventually drawn into the sex industry. "There is a real problem in locating homeless teenage girls," stated the report. "Many of them are picked up by men who take advantage of them, making them sell their bodies in order to survive. That means that in many cases the girls cannot be found out on the streets at night but often find shelter in the outlets of the sex industry." With regards to the young age of those often found on the streets at night, Gabai said that in recent years it had fallen to as young as 10. Thirty-seven percent of those treated by Elem last year were under the age of 16, with 10% of those found out on the streets being between the ages of 10-14. "In many cases, older siblings are left in charge and they go out on the streets taking their [brothers and sisters] with them," observed Gabai. The report also found that nearly half of those loitering late at night were new immigrants teens, with almost a quarter of those being from the Ethiopian community. "These are classic symptoms of families dealing with immigration issues," he said. "In many cases, the parents have to work long hours or two jobs and the children are left alone with no one to care for them or bring them food." The data for the report is based on information collected by the organization's social workers and volunteers. In January 2006, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced the launch of a NIS 200 million program to reduce the number of children and youth at risk. However, the programs are still in the development stage and have still not been activated by local municipalities.