Gaps among nation’s children a ‘social time bomb'

One-third of Israeli children live below the poverty line, with a major malnutrition problem in in minorities.

Peres school children (photo credit: Moshe Milner/GPO)
Peres school children
(photo credit: Moshe Milner/GPO)
The socioeconomic gaps between different classes of Israeli-born children could soon become explosive, Dr. Yitzhak Kadman, head of the National Council for the Child, warned on Wednesday.
He spoke as the council published its annual report for 2010.
“The gaps between those children who have and those who do not is an issue that is apparent across the board in this report,” Kadman, who presented the 680-page document to President Shimon Peres on Wednesday morning, told The Jerusalem Post.
“It’s not only about economic gaps between those children whose families do not have money even for medicines and those who get to fly abroad on vacation twice a year,” he continued.
“The gap is also widening in terms of education, health, crime and welfare; this situation is not only intolerable for the children who are clearly the victims, but it is also a ticking social time bomb.”
According to the report, out of the 2,468,700 children who lived in Israel in 2009, 850,300, or one in three, lived below the poverty line, nearly five times as many poor children as there were in 1980.
“The situation in Israel is very disturbing,” Kadman said. “One-third of Israeli children live below the poverty line. For minorities such as the Beduin and the haredim there is a big problem of malnutrition and there has become a clear link between parents with a low income and those teens who end up with a criminal record.”
He added: “Compare it on an international scale and we see that in Israel children study in classes with too many pupils and overall the government spends less on each child; they are even talking about cutting child allotments even further.”
Kadman also pointed to the dire situation of the roughly 100,000 children of migrant workers and asylum-seekers who do not have any legal status.
“This means that for them they do not have health care or a social worker to look out for them,” he said. “It is not one or two or even hundreds, there are thousands... This situation needs to be addressed.”
Several other potential flash points highlighted by the statistics include the falling rate of adoption, which Kadman explained could be viewed positively in that there were fewer children being born into broken homes, but was also happening because the legal system was becoming increasingly less flexible in allowing willing and able families to adopt children with troubled backgrounds.
In addition, he said marriages and births among teenage girls was also a challenge facing the country, with 1,556 minors having babies in 2009. Out of that number, 20 were under the age of 15, 124 under 16, 372 under 17 and 1,040 under 18.
Roughly 22 percent were Jews and the rest were Arabs.
While the report presented some disturbing points in the country’s treatment of children, there were some optimistic elements, such as a fall in the number of youths committing crimes. In 2009, the police filed 33,023 reports against minors, down from 47.2 reports per 1,000 youths in 2000 to 45.3 reports per 1,000 youths in 2009.
Other positive points, noted Kadman, were an increase in education levels in the Arab community; a drop in the number of children hurt in traffic accidents (from 70 a decade ago to 35 in 2009) and a rise in volunteerism among teens.
Peres said it was unacceptable that more than a third of Israeli children were undernourished and deprived of the ability to develop as they should. He called for more investment in the nation’s children not only in terms of their material needs but also in matters of education.
He urged that the authorities make education more accessible to all, and pay more attention to literacy, because every schoolchild should be able to read.
Peres lauded the dedication of the National Council for the Child and suggested that the organization and Beit Hanassi join forces in a major effort to advance the welfare of the nation’s youngest children by ensuring that they all receive milk and health services from the nation’s health clinics.
Peres said he was fearful of what future statistics would reveal and that what concerned him most was the growing abuse of children, who in ever-increasing numbers have been victims of sexual assault, and domestic and playground violence.
Overall, 161,042 children were born in Israel in 2009, with 69.4% being Jewish; 24.1% Muslim; 2.9% listed without a religion; 1.7% Christian; and 1.9% Druse.
The largest population of children was in Jerusalem (308,083); Tel Aviv had 78,290 children and Bnei Brak 71,342.