President Reuven Rivlin on Sunday received, for the last time in his term of office, the annual report Children in Israel 2021, which focuses on the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on Israel’s children. Executive Director of the Israel National Council for the Child (NCC), attorney Vered Winderman, and youth representative Shahar Bracha, also participated.
The report included some discouraging data regarding Israeli children in the time of the pandemic:
- A rise of 40% in the number of children at risk of suicide treated by educational psychologists
- The number of reports of suspected violence against children doubled
- Reports to school psychologists of isolation, difficulties with studies, anxiety and emotional distress among schoolchildren
- Nearly one third of Israeli schoolchildren did not participate regularly in online learning, or belonged to classes without any online learning
- More than half of Israeli schoolchildren in schools where Arabic is the language of instruction, and about 35% of children in schools where it’s Hebrew, do not have access to a computer for distance learning
- A significant rise in online sexual harassment
This is the 29th annual comprehensive analysis of children and youth in Israel. The report contains data on a wide range of areas, including poverty, education, youth employment, and trends in changing size and structure of the Israeli family.
“This year’s data are the result of life at the time of a pandemic,” President Rivlin opened his remarks. “They are figures that show us, black on white, that we need to care even more than ever for children at risk, but that we also need to––because of the pandemic––take care now of all our boys and girls.”
“For half of our children, school is not a significant place in their lives. It shows us that when our daily lives are disrupted, our children––and particularly our girls––are exposed far more to harm and harassment online. Those who don’t have an internet connection, and those who don’t have a computer at home, are left behind. And we are talking about more than a third of Jewish schoolchildren and more than a half of Arab schoolchildren. These numbers are high, too high. They are frightening. The gaps between our children are growing.”
“Israeli society is comprised of many gaps,” said the president. “We must not accept with equanimity the fact that this generation of boys and girls will grow up in a society where it is so clear and so pronounced that the fact a girl is Jewish or Arab, that a boy is secular, religious or Haredi, is what determines the level of education they receive and the quality of the life they will live. This is an emergency and we must take emergency measures, we have a duty to take notice. It is not just about learning. It is about community life, the life of our society. It is about being in the company of adults who are positive role models. In reality, our children have been abandoned to screens.”
“The vaccines have brought hope that we can begin to look ahead, beyond the health crisis. But the consequences of the pandemic, exactly as described in the National Council for the Child’s annual report, are far wider. Israeli society needs a rehabilitation program and a period of socio-economic reconstruction. Unfortunately, we are at the beginning of a fourth election campaign in two years. We citizens must do everything, everything, to make it clear to our elected officials that after the elections they must take action to ensure a good present for us all and a better future for our children. All our children. Nothing short of this is acceptable,” the president said.
The Executive Director of the NCC, attorney Winderman, noted that “although this terrible disease has passed over most of our children and young people, this is not the case with the socio-emotional ‘disease.’ It has hit our children and young people mercilessly. The data are a shining red warning light.”
She added: “It is precisely when the pressure cooker in many homes is bubbling and when stress and risk factors are rising that we see a huge problem in identifying children at risk, and those at risk of sexual abuse and neglect in particular. And, indeed, the number of police investigations for domestic sexual abuse has dropped, as has the number of reports to the welfare hotline regarding suspected sexual abuse and neglect. We are reasonably confident that this does not reflect a drop in the cases of those at risk, but rather because of the lack of external observation by those outside the family, and because children are less in the public space and less in contact with community educational and health professionals because of the ongoing lock-downs and restrictions. The consequence is that there are, it would seem thousands of children at high risk that nobody sees and nobody hears. Corona has hurt children and the damage and the risk demand immediate action.”