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Monday, December 30, 2013

In Israel, child poverty, abuse, obesity, idleness rise, study finds

Too many Israeli children are poor, but even those who are not impoverished don’t eat right and spend too much time at the TV and computer, according to the 22nd statistics almanac “Children in Israel,” presented to President Shimon Peres on Sunday by the National Council for the Child.

There is, however, a trend of lower drug and alcohol abuse than in the past, the report notes.

Of the 2,626,400 children in Israel at the end of 2012, 33.7 percent, or 885,000 children, lived in poverty. In 1980 only 8.1 percent of Israeli children were poor, meaning that child poverty has grown fourfold over the past 30 years.

Among first through ninth graders, 27.3 percent are overweight, with Arabs and non-Haredi Jewish children more likely to be overweight than Bedouin or Haredi children. Around 3 percent of kids in those grades are underweight.

The overwhelming majority of children aged 12-17 reported that they use social media frequently (88.9 percent among 12 through 14 year olds and 87.6 percent of those 15 to 17). Nearly 70 percent of teens said the primary reason they use social media is to keep in touch with friends. Some 40 percent of 15-17 year olds read blogs and a quarter write them. More than three-quarters of kids aged 12-17 watch videos online frequently.

More than 80 percent of teens (aged 13-18) have a Facebook account. Twenty-one percent reported seeing a video or photograph that showed one of their friends or teachers in a humiliating situation.

“It’s important to address the issue of children’s leisure time, which is one big no-man’s land,” said council chairman Dr. Yitzhak Kadman. “Kids in Israel are too fat, they don’t eat fruits and vegetables and they don’t eat breakfast, but they’re champions at watching television and surfing the Internet in all its forms.”

He added that “Every second child reported encountering negative sexual content on the Internet, and many of the kids become victims, while others suffer from online harassment and bullying.” Unfortunately, he said, the leisure options for children that don’t involve Internet or television have become very expensive.

Peres responded to the report’s findings by saying, “It’s impossible to accept a situation in which every third child in Israel is poor and every fourth child has been a victim of sexual attack. Services like education and health cost families a lot of money, even though most of them can’t make ends meet and the first to suffer are the children.

“To protect the weak in society isn’t just a slogan,” Peres said. “There must be real action to aid and strengthen children.”

On the positive side

The good news is that according to data from between 2008/9 and 2010/11, the percentage of children of all age groups reporting that their consumption of alcohol had dropped, and there was also a decrease in the percentage of kids using drugs. The percentage of pupils in grades 7 through 9 who had ever smoked marijuana or hashish dropped from 4 percent in 2008/9 to 2 percent in 2010/11, and in grades 10-11 the rate dropped from 7 percent to 5 percent.

According to the report, between 1998 and 2012 there was a 31.3 percent increase in the number of police files opened for harm done to minors, from 6,370 files to 8,361. In each of the years the number of cases of child assault by non-family members exceeded the cases of assault by family members; in 2012 the ratio was 71 percent to 29 percent. Of the 2,425 cases of abuse within opened in 2012, 21 percent were for sexual abuse.

In 2012, investigators questioned 2,578 children up to age 14 who were victims of sexual crimes, a 54 percent increase over 1990. In 2012, 16.2 percent of those questioned by investigators were immigrant children, though new immigrants make up only 9.1 percent of the population.

The report also provides data on children with no official status in Israel. As of March 2013, there were 156,987 children in Israel without citizenship (an increase of 25 percent over 2001). Of those, 85,684 had no legal status of any kind, most of them having arrived on tourist visas that had long since expired. This number includes the children of immigrants whose status is uncertain, children of foreign workers, children of asylum seekers, and others.

All told, in 2012 those under 18 made up 32.9 percent of the population, compared to 33.8 percent in 2000. Between 1970-2012 the number of children doubled, with the number of Muslim children more than tripling. In 2012 there were 170,940 births in Israel, 76 percent of them Jewish. This constitutes 46.3 percent more births than in 1995, when 116,866 children were born.

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