Police options on preventing child abuse limited

The police have limited tools at their disposal when it comes to preventing minors from becoming victims of serious physical abuse, a veteran police youth officer said on Wednesday, as news of the alleged murder of four-year-old Rose Pizem at the hands of her grandfather continued to dominate the headlines. "According to the law, preventing serious harm to minors is the responsibility of social welfare services," the officer explained. "Police can launch investigations, initiate judicial processes and arrest suspects. But preventing helpless minors from being abused is a welfare services task, not the police's," she added. The police cannot take children into protective care or get testimonies out of them, the officer added, saying that a specially designated child investigator, sent directly by the Ministry of Welfare, is in charge of communications with minors when suspicions of abuse arise. "If this poor girl, Rose, had been alive, a child interrogator would have been dispatched to speak to her," the officer said. "The police's job is to build up the case." The youth officer said an important law protecting children from abusive custodians came into effect in 1989, after the brutal murder of a child by a parent in Tiberias. "All of the neighbors knew what happened, but did not report it. They were not legally obligated to do so. That's why a law was passed making it a legal duty on every citizen who knows of violence to report it to the authorities," the officer said. The source dismissed media claims saying that the police had insisted on waiting to receive written notice that Rose was missing before going into action. "This is nonsense - police will submit a written complaint themselves when they receive any information leading to suspicions that a child is missing or abused. An anonymous phone call is enough," she said. The officer added that cases of extreme violence against children by their guardians were relatively low in Israel. "We have many complaints about children being slapped by their parents, which isn't justified, but it happens. However, very serious violence is rare," she said. "Today, public awareness of child abuse is high."