National Council for the Child yearbook says 309,141 children at risk in Israel; Peres appalled by results.
By GREER FAY CASHMAN, RUTH EGLASH
There has been little improvement in the living conditions of the nation's children over the past year, with more than one out of every three below the poverty line and nearly 400,000 considered at immediate risk by the social services, the National Council of the Child's 17th annual report on "Children in Israel" revealed on Sunday.
President Shimon Peres, who received the report from the council, said he was appalled by the "shocking revelations" of child abuse and neglect. He immediately called for an all-party Knesset lobby to be set up as soon as the 18th Knesset is inaugurated. He also urged those preparing to vote in Tuesday's election to pay more attention to the political parties' policies regarding children.
"The destiny of every person is essentially decided in the first three years of life," Peres said. "A child who lacks love, a warm relationship, learning and encouragement will seriously suffer in the future."
He also called on parents to pay more attention to their youngsters' development, saying: "It's not enough to bring a child into this world; you need to invest in them, raise, guide and shower much attention, love and education on them."
According to the report, which was due to be released on January 4 but was delayed due to Operation Cast Lead, children make up 33.2 percent of Israel's total population and 2007 - the year reflected in the year report - saw the birth of 151,679 new citizens of all faiths.
The situation for the nation's 2,408,400 children appears bleak, according to the report, with thousands of them physically and emotionally undernourished, neglected and abused.
The document, which examines health, education, family status, entertainment interests, demographics and the welfare situation, shows that some 823,600 children lived below the poverty line in 2007. Although that was slightly fewer than in the previous year, the NCC warns "that the statistics are still not reflective of the current economic recession," which has seen thousands of bread-winners losing their jobs over the past six months.
The report also showed the stark socioeconomic gaps between certain localities, notably between Jerusalem, which has substantial Muslim and haredi populations with large families, and Tel Aviv.
In the capital, some 55.6% of children live below the poverty line, compared to only 20.2% in Tel Aviv.
The average family size grew to 2.4 children in 2007 (in 2006 it was 2.3), and those choosing to bring four or more children into this world reached its highest-ever, 166,254, of the nearly one million families with children in this country.
Regarding child abuse in 2007, the report showed an actual drop in the number of cases filed compared to the previous year. However, it also highlighted that 384,645 children had active social welfare files in 2007, with 69% considered in direct danger from their immediate environment or family members - an increase of 36% since 2001.
The report also showed a continual increase in the number of single-parent families and in parents getting divorced. In 2007, some 14,415 parents divorced, nearly twice as much as in 2000, and nearly 8.7% of the country's children lived in single-parent households. That figure increased from 202,000 children in 2006 to 205,000 in 2007.
Dr. Yitzhak Kadman, executive director of the NCC, which receives funding from the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation and assistance in preparing the report from the Haruv Institute, said the purpose of the document was to create awareness among the public, politicians and journalists, "so that no one could claim ignorance of what happens to children in Israel."
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