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CONSIDERATION OF REPORTS SUBMITTED BY STATES PARTIES
UNDER ARTICLE 44 OF THE CONVENTION
Periodic reports of States parties due in 1993
I. GENERAL INTRODUCTION
2. Most (89%) of the children in Israel live in urban centers. The percentage of children living in rural communities is higher among the Arab citizens of Israel, reaching 21. About 12% of Israel’s children - 9% of the Arabs and 14% of the Jews - live in mixed communities of Jews and Arabs.
3. Many of the children in Israel live in large families of four or more children; in 1998, this group represented 16% of all of the Israeli households with children up to age 18. A greater percentage of Arab families have four or more children. Relative to other western countries, a small percentage (7.4%) of Israel’s children live in single-parent families.
4. A number of factors have played and continue to play a decisive role in determining the character of Israeli society. One is the social and cultural diversity of the Jewish population, resulting primarily from immigration from a wide range of countries of origin but also from differences in religious observance. Another is the nature of relations between the Jewish majority and the significant Arab minority. To this may be added the Arab-Israeli conflict and the ongoing peace process.
6. Immigration has contributed to the unique cultural diversity of Israel’s Jewish population, which comprises people who were born and raised in practically all of the various cultures and geographic areas of the world. Consequently, equality among the ethnically diverse groups within the Jewish population has been of concern throughout the State’s history.
7. In addition, the absorption of large numbers of immigrants from differing cultures was a significant economic burden on the fledgling State, particularly given its limited resources at that time. Many of the immigrants spent several years in tent cities and transit camps before being settled in permanent housing, and compulsory elementary education was instituted for the first time only in 1956, and even then without a sufficient number of teachers and schools.
8. The absorption of large numbers of immigrants has also had far-reaching social implications. There were discrepancies in educational background and family size between the two largest groups of immigrants in the 1940s and 1950s. The level of education of immigrants from Asian and African countries was lower, and their families larger, than those of immigrants from European countries. Moreover, immigrants from Asia and Africa were encouraged to replace their cultural, and even religious, heritage with the nascent “Israeli” culture. The social and cultural education of immigrants from Europe and the Americas enabled them to adopt the new culture with greater ease than could immigrants from Asia and Africa, who found it difficult to adjust to the new society and to succeed socially and economically. Moreover, during that period, Israel had to cope with general issues of housing, employment, and social integration.
9. Fortunately, significant changes have taken place in Israel’s outlook on integration. Over the years, a more pluralistic approach has developed, which recognizes the importance to immigrants and to the larger society of preserving cultural traditions. This recognition is now reflected in government policy and in the allocation of resources.
10. The latest wave of immigration began in late 1989; by the end of 1996, it had brought 750,000 people to Israel, increasing the State’s population by 17% in seven years. Most (87%) of these immigrants - 656,000 - came from the former Soviet Union, although an additional 30,000 came from Ethiopia. Many of the latter had subsisted on farming in the mountains of Ethiopia, and had had a most limited education; the society they came to is radically different. Although the population of Ethiopian immigrants (including 15,000 immigrants who arrived in Israel in the early 1980s) is numerically small, its cultural uniqueness and limited educational and financial resources pose a challenge to Israeli society, which is striving to absorb them socially and economically.
12. Israel’s Arab population is mainly resides in the Galilee in the north; the Negev desert in the south; and a south-north triangle in the center of the country. The Arab population comprises sub-populations that differ in their religious, social and cultural characteristics. These groups may be differentiated by religion (80% are Moslems, 11% are Christians, and 9% are Druze), by residence (urban versus rural), and by culture or lifestyle (Bedouin, Samaritan, Circassian). This diversity is also expressed in differing birth rates, housing conditions, and economic and employment status.
13. Table 1 presents some basic socio-demographic characteristics of the Arab population, compared to the general population of Israel. As the Table reveals, the Arab population is typified by larger families, lower levels of education, and lower income than that of the total Israeli population. Consequently, the percentage of Arab children who live below the poverty line is very high. It is important to note that there are differences among the different groups in the Arab population. For example, among the Christian Arabs, families are smaller and levels of (women’s) employment and income are higher than among the other groups.
Basic socio-demographic characteristics of the Arab population,
compared to the Jewish population (in %)
* Percentage of the total population.
14. Israel was established as a Jewish and democratic State. Its declaration of independence calls for “full equal rights for all citizens, regardless of gender, religion, or race”. Members of a minority are full citizens with equal rights who participate in elections, are represented in the Knesset (Israel’s parliament), and are entitled to all of the services that the State provides its citizens. Nevertheless, the continuing conflict between Israel and the neighboring Arab States and the social and economic gaps between Arabs and Jews have contributed to tensions between the Arab minority and the Jewish majority. The development of social and municipal services in the Arab sector has lagged behind that in the Jewish sector, in part due to discrepancies in the allocation of government resources. This has delayed the attainment of social and economic equality by the Arab population. Although Israel’s governments have recently taken significant steps to accelerate the social and economic advancement of th e Arab population, it is clear that achieving equality represents a major ongoing challenge.
16. Efforts have always been made to end the conflict between Israel and her Arab neighbors. In 1979, a first peace agreement was signed with Egypt. In October 1991, a conference was convened in Madrid to inaugurate direct peace talks. Subsequently, bilateral negotiations have been conducted between Israel and Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and the Palestinians, as well as multilateral talks on key regional issues. To date, these negotiations have resulted in a peace treaty between Israel and Jordan, and a series of interim agreements with the Palestinians.
19. This report is being presented at the start of an era that is likely to witness significant change in the laws that concern children throughout the world. These laws have already seen social, cultural and historical upheaval. To a certain extent, the laws concerning children have developed much as have the laws concerning other groups, such as women and minorities. The current trend is one of transition from seeing these groups as having no rights or as being the object of another group’s rights (e.g., women, children and black men as the chattel of white men), to one of seeing them as having rights of their own. Nevertheless, children still differ from women and ethnic or religious minorities, as paternalistic considerations are applied to them, preventing the absolute equalization of their rights with those granted to all human beings.
20. The lion’s share of 20th century law concerning children is based on the principle of “the best interests of the child”, which views children as being distinct from the “general” class of human beings who are entitled to a certain type and quantity of rights. Children are perceived as lacking the ability to exercise mature, free will or to make decisions that will affect their lives. Consequently, the authority to settle matters concerning children is placed in the hands of others, usually parents or the government, who are required to act in accordance with the presumed best interests of the child. This principle underlies the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and, despite rhetoric regarding the human rights of children, has also long guided legislation and adjudication in Israel, as elsewhere.
21. During the past two decades, new developments have occurred: The correlation between children’s rights and human rights has begun to exceed the limits of rhetoric per se. The perception that human rights should be applied to children has given rise to a doctrine that requires drawing normative, practicable conclusions - some of which may be at odds with those drawn from the principle of “the best interests of the child”. Increasingly, a child has the right to be heard in matters concerning him and to have his wishes respected, even when these do not coincide with what adults perceive to be his “best interest”. A 1998 amendment to section 27D (a) of the Youth Employment Law 1953 determined that “in granting a permit to employ a minor, a young person who is capable of expressing his opinion will have the right to state his opinion regarding the granting of a permit for his employment, and his opinion will be given due weight, in accordance with his age and maturity”. Thus, in legal terms, children are being increasingly likened to other groups, such as women and minorities, and are being granted the same status as human beings in general. This trend is also clearly reflected in the recent amendment to section 149G (a) of the Municipalities Ordinance, which stipulates that “the [local] authority will appoint a committee to plan activities that promote the status of children and youth, protect them, and secure their rights, including non-discrimination, the best interests of the child, respect for the views of the child, and the right to life, survival and development to the maximum extent possible”.
22. This trend may have several explanations, one of which is the rapid pace of maturation, spurred by exposure to the media of an intensity unknown to past generations of children. Education and coming of age are today different in duration, content and essence than in the past. This phenomenon has implications for the rights of children.
23. Another possible explanation for this trend is the acknowledgment of the importance of human rights overall, and the need to defend them rigorously. Increasingly, children are viewed as human beings who have rights independent of and separate from those of their parents. At the same time, it is also customary to view the right to bear and raise children, and to educate them according to one’s beliefs, as a fundamental human right. The trend to recognize the rights of children is likely to reinforce the recognition and protection of the rights of parents regarding their children.
24. Although the perception of children as having rights independent of their parents is no longer unusual, and in fact is common rhetoric, in Israel, most of the laws and rulings regarding children are the outgrowth of a more traditional perspective. Specifically, this perspectives stresses the best interests of the child on one hand, and the rights of parents, on the other. Not only do these goals not always coincide, but in fact they often conflict, and lead to opposite conclusions. In this chapter we will demonstrate how this tension is reflected in Israeli law.
26. However, it is important to note that this law, which was enacted nearly 40 years ago, does not consider the rights of the child, as distinct from the best interests of the child or those of the parents. By lumping together minors and people who are non compos mentis (that is, who due to illness or disability (such as mental illness or retardation) are incapable of looking out for their own interests), the law indiscriminately restricts a child’s freedom to take legal action.
27. Fortunately, the Guardianship and Legal Capacity Law is not the only law concerning children. There is no one principle underlying the many laws concerning children, though most of them consider the “best interests of the child”. Often, what is perceived to constitute “the best interests of the child” is fairly anachronistic, and in itself is the source of debate. However, there are also more innovative laws, which seek, at least in part, to uphold the rights of the child.
28. To illustrate, it is doubtful whether the “best interests of the child” are served in each and every instance by the order obligating a child to apply for a patent through a legal guardian (section 49 of the Patents Law 1967), or the order forbidding a child to join an association (section 15 of the Amutot (Non-Profit Societies) Law 1980). A more controversial example is that of the anonymity granted to sperm and ova donors, which prevents children who were born as a result of such donations from discovering the identity of their biological father or mother. While this legal situation may facilitate the donation of sperm and ova when necessary, and while it may improve the chances of becoming a parent for some adults, it may not serve the “best interests” of their progeny, as the sanction against their knowing their genetic identity is an affront to their dignity, and denies them information that is essential to their formulating a sense of self. On the other hand, given the assumed contribution of the sperm or ova donor’s anonymity to the very birth of the child, one may argue that this anonymity indeed serves his interests.
29. Some laws appear to show concern not for the best interests of the child, but rather for the best interests of society. For example, beginning at age ten, the consent of a child is a requisite for his conversion from one religion to another (section 13A(b) of the Guardianship and Legal Capacity Law 1962). However, it seems this stipulation is an outgrowth of the political and social sensitivity to conversion in Israel, rather than of consideration for a child’s right, or even “best interest”. An amendment made in 2000 to section 185 of the Penal Law 1977 forbids the sale of brass knuckles or a knife (except one for household use) to a minor. While this sanction is somewhat paternalistic, it is also meant to protect minors from exposure to harm. A 1999 amendment to section 8C of the Youth (Care and Supervision) Law 1960 stated that “a court sitting in the matter of a minor is authorized, at any time, to appoint a legal guardian for the legal proceedings or any matter arising therefrom, if this will serve the best interests of the minor or protect his interests”. This the court may do without hearing the position of the minor before appointing the guardian. A 1998 amendment to section 2E(a)(2) of the Business Licensing Law 1968 stipulates that the licensing authority is authorized to ban the inclusion in a business of sexual devices for minors under the age of 17. The proposed Restriction on Advertising Tobacco Smoking Products (Amendment No. 4) (Indirect Advertising and Protection of Youth) 1998 would restrict the advertisement and distribution of cigarettes to minors; the proposed Protection of Genetic Information Law 1998 would make the retrieval of genetic information from minors age 16 and over conditional upon their consent, and would allow the retrieval of genetic information from younger minors and the legally incompetent only on the consent of their legal guardian, in part “to improve the state of the minor or incompetent”.
30. Nevertheless, signs are beginning to appear on the Israeli legislative landscape that the traditional, paternalistic perspective is changing into one that emphasizes the child’s independent rights, among them the right to dignity. For example, section 3(d) of the Court for Family Matters Law 1995 allows minors to file a legal claim themselves in any instance in which their rights are in danger of infringement. In 1995, section 8 of the Youth (Care and Supervision) Law 1960 was amended to require the courts to allow a minor to appear and express his views before the rendering of a judgment. An amendment from the same year determines the status of minors who have reached age 15 and who oppose psychiatric hospitalization (section 3F of that law). The Adoption of Children Law 1981 stipulates that children who have reached the age of nine must be heard, as must children who are younger but who understand their circumstances, prior to the handing down of an adoption order. According to section 187 (d) of the Criminal Procedures [Consolidated Version] Law 1982, agreement to an inquiry into the state of a victim of sexual assault who is over age 14 can be granted by the victim herself, without the consent of her legal guardian. Further, section 1 of the Detection of the AIDS Virus in Minors Law 1996 determines that “despite the rule of law, a test to determine the presence of the AIDS/HIV virus in a minor will be conducted at the minor’s request, even without the consent of his parent or legal guardian (hereafter, his representative) … if the following [conditions] have been fulfilled: (1) the physician has provided the minor with a full explanation…and is satisfied that the minor has understood the explanation; (2) the physician has raised the possibility of obtaining the consent of the minor’s representative, but the minor has refused; (3) the physician is convinced that, given the minor’s age, emotional maturity and capacity for free will, his best interest requires conducting the test without the consent of his representative”. Nevertheless, at present, there is no law in Israel regarding the general obligation to hear children in any matter pertaining to their lives, as is stipulated by article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child or by the British Children’s Act of 1989. It is worth noting that Israeli law does not give any such order concerning adults, either. Consequently, it may be possible to base the right of a child to a hearing on the laws of natural justice set in case law, which is the source of the general right to a hearing in Israel. In practice, there are many cases in which a child’s claims are not heard, even though the right to be heard would be granted to an adult in similar circumstances.
32. This corpus of legislation is based in large part on an arbitrary and inflexible definition that does not address the personal circumstances or capacity of the child. One may even claim that this automatic definition of legal minority is unjust. The denial of freedom that is a consequence of this definition does not distinguish between those who should have their freedoms denied, and those who should not. One may also claim that any arbitrary approach to human beings is unjust, particularly if freedoms are granted or denied based on that approach. It nevertheless seems that it is impossible to avoid defining “legal minority” arbitrarily (that is, by setting an age ceiling), and on this the UN Convention is based. Flexible, case-by-case definition is practically impossible, both because of the large number of minors and because minors are continuously maturing. Furthermore, case-by-case definition might invoke an invasion of privacy.
33. Nevertheless, some Israeli laws allow the courts to rule in light of a child’s personal circumstances. For example, under the Marriage Age Law 1950, the court must review the personal circumstances of every girl who asks to be married before reaching marriageable age as defined by law. Under the Youth Employment Law 1953, the Minister of Labor and Social Affairs must review the personal circumstances of a child who wishes to participate in an artistic performance before granting or denying permission.
1. The best interests of the child
36. Although the Rabbinic Courts do not dispute adherence to the principle of the best interests of the child, it must be remembered that these courts view the best interests of the child in light of religious values, according to which a child’s best interest is served by his receiving a religious education. It is therefore not uncommon for a religious court to rule that a child remain in the custody of a parent who is capable of giving him such an education. This approach is not acceptable to the Supreme Court. To illustrate, one Supreme Court judge has written:
38. Another example of consideration of the best interests of the child is provided by a recent case in which the Family Court in Jerusalem rejected a plea to conduct a tissue-typing test for the purpose of negating paternity of a nine-year-old child. It based its ruling on the belief that the “minor can, at his age, understand a claim of child support on his behalf, but cannot understand, without it devastating the foundation of his existence, that his father disputes his paternity”. (Family Court Case (Jerusalem) 12980/97 Anonymous Plaintiff v. Anonymous Defendant (10.11.98).)
39. Nevertheless, in some matters the rights of the parents or the interests of society are considered in addition to the “best interests of the child”. Thus, for example, the best interest of the child is not, in itself, a cause for adoption. In a series of rulings, the Supreme Court determined that even if adoptive parents are likely to be better parents than a child’s biological parents, this does not constitute sufficient cause to remove the child from the custody of his biological parents (see Civil Appeal 623/80 Anonymous Plaintiff v. Attorney General, P.D. 45(2) 72). Rather, it is permissible to place a child up for adoption only when there is cause for adoption, for example, when the biological parents are unable to provide sufficiently for the child. In any case, it is clear that the child’s best interests are the decisive consideration when there is cause for adoption.
40. Another example is provided by the policy of social integration into the education system. In accordance with this policy, children are deliberately placed in schools with the aim of raising the level of the schools in each region to a given standard, preventing the flight of students from weaker to more affluent areas, and integrating students from different ethnic and economic backgrounds ((Petition to the) High Court of Justice 595/88 Schulman v. Director of the Tel Aviv Board of Education , P.D. 52(3) 594). Sometimes, children are placed in a school in accordance with the policy of integration and in defiance of their wishes and those of their parents; the claim has been made that this is a breach of their interests. In this matter the Supreme Court has ruled that the “best interests of the child” are not an exclusive consideration, but rather represent only one consideration to be weighed alongside “the best interests of the public and its reform”, which are reflected in the policy of integration. (See (Petition to the) High Court of Justice 421/77 Nir v. Beer Yaakov Regional Council, P.D. 32(2) 253.)
41. The perception of the “best interests of the child” has also not yet achieved a stable position in the judicial debate over current fertility technologies, such as in-vitro fertilization, sperm donation, and surrogate mothers. For example, when the Supreme Court debated the fate of fertilized ova in a case in which a husband refused to continue the embryonic process, the court weighed many considerations, but only one of the 11 judges who sat in the additional and decisive hearing in this case raised the issue of the “ best interest” of the child who would be born into a single-parent family. However, even this judge stated that he could not rule in the matter, because of the impossibility of determining whether it was better for a child not to be born at all than to be born into a single-parent family: “The answer to the question of whether non-existence is preferable to existence lies in the realms of philosophy and ethics; the helplessness of the court to resolve it is clear” (Additional Civil Appeal 2401/95 Nahmani v. Nahmani , P.D. 50(4) 661). Even in the initial hearing held in the Supreme Court in this matter, only one judge addressed this consideration, stating that “ given the reality we live in and the personal circumstances of Ruti Nahmani [the claimant], I would not giv e weight to the “best interests of the child” and deny what she has requested solely for that reason” [emphasis in the original] (Civil Appeal 5587/93 Nahmani v. Nahmani, P.D. 49(1) 458, p. 521).
43. The increased use of the term “the right to dignity” in matters concerning children may be ascribed to passage of the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty, which sets constitutional statutes for the protection of human rights, at the core of which is respect for human dignity. This fundamental law has been given crucial symbolic and practical significance by the Israeli justice system. It has also had a great deal of influence on rulings concerning children.
44. For example, a Supreme Court decision to disqualify an agreement between parents which would have relieved the father of responsibility for child support payments was based on the court’s belief that the agreement was an affront to the child’s dignity (see Civil Appeal 5464 Anonymous Plaintiff v. Anonymous Defendant (Minor) , P.D. 48(3) 857). The right to dignity was also the basis of a recent Supreme Court ruling that overturned an old law, which permitted corporal punishment of children for educational purposes (Criminal Appeal 5224/97 State of Israel v. Sde Or (20.7.98, not yet published); Criminal Appeal 96/98 45 Anonymous Plaintiff v. State of Israel (25.1.00 not yet published)). In the spirit of that ruling, a clause of the Civil Wrongs Ordinance was recently annulled by the Knesset, which had granted immunity to parents, guardians and teachers who practiced corporal punishment on a minor “to the degree reasonably necessary to mend his ways”. Another important example of the Supreme Court’s belief in a child’s right to dignity was proved by its finding a creative interpretation that allowed it to “circumvent” a law that would have prevented a child’s right to know the identity of his parents. Thus one Supreme Court judge who sat in that case tied human dignity, as protected by the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty, with natural law:
46. Even if we claim that defending the dignity of children is compatible with their best interests, the change in rhetoric and terminology has implications for the future, and signals an important change of emphasis: The essence of the concept “the best interests of the child” is paternalistic. The essence of the concept “the dignity of the child” is the recognition that children are autonomous and thus have the fundamental right to dignity - a right which may conflict with paternalistic concerns.
50. Although the other judges who heard the case concurred with the chief justice, only one of them made an argument based on the same principles. The other three judges expressed the opinion that the test of the “best interests of the child” took precedence, stating that in any case in which the desired outcome based on the child’s best interests contradicts the desired outcome based on the child’s rights, the child’s best interests should hold sway. Nevertheless, even these judges did not dispute the importance of recognizing the principle of children’s rights.
51. Since that ruling, and perhaps in its wake, awareness has grown in Israel of the autonomy of children’s rights. Legal debate has intensified regarding the significance of recognizing children’s rights and the discrepancies between their rights and their best interests (Application for Civil Appeal 2043/98 Amin v. Amin (4.10.99 not yet published)). For example, the Supreme Court approved a ruling of the Tel Aviv-Jaffa District Court - apparently the first of its kind in the world - that placed liability for damages on a father who had disowned his children, and thereby caused them emotional pain and suffering. The court ruled thus, although it acknowledged the sensitivity of the issue and the need to avoid inappropriate infringement of a parent’s autonomy. In so doing, the court recognized children as having rights of their own. In a similar spirit, in a May 1999 ruling based on the Court for Family Matters Law 1995, the Family Court in Tel Aviv-Jaffa recognized the right of a minor age 11 to separate representation by an attorney who w ould serve as her guardian in legal matters, in conflicts between her divorced parents. In this case, the court based itself on article 12(1) of the Convention, which requires enabling a child to be heard, directly or indirectly, in any judicial matter concerning him (Family Court Case (Tel Aviv) 23860/96 Anonymous Plaintiff v. Anonymous Defendant and Others (not yet published)).
53. Indeed, Israel’s courts - both the Supreme and the Lower Courts, including Family Courts - have cited the Convention and based rulings upon it. For example, the Supreme Court’s understanding of the essence of children’s rights is based on the Convention, as indicated by its ruling in favor of the plaintiff in the paternity suit of a Moslem girl, which was based on a child’s right to know his parents, as stipulated by article 7 of the Convention (Civil Appeal 3077/9 Anonymous Plaintiff (Hemda) and Others v. Anonymous Defendant (Yunis) , P.D. 49/2 578). In two other rulings, the court based itself on the Convention’s prohibition against the use of corporal punishment in children’s education. In this matter, the court wrote:
55. There are a few other principles outlined in the Convention that have not yet been fully grounded in Israeli law. We refer primarily to the principles set down in articles 12 and 27 of the Convention. Article 12 of the Convention stipulates that a child who is capable of expressing his opinion must be given the right to freely express that opinion in any matter concerning him, and that his opinion must be given due weight in accordance with his age and maturity. Article 12 also stipulates that children be heard in any administrative or legal proceeding that concerns them directly or indirectly. Current law in Israel arranges the right of a child to be heard and his opinion to be considered in certain matters that concern him. For example, section 149g of the Municipalities Ordinance cited above, which was amended in 2000, stipulates that representatives of student and youth movement councils serve on local and municipal committees for the advancement of children. (See also the Youth Employment Law as it addresses the hearing of children and the Pupils’ Rights Law 2000 in this matter.) However, while current legislative initiatives address specific aspects of a child’s right to be heard, there is as yet no general order in this matter, and the practice of allowing children to be heard is not consistent.
56. Article 27 of the Convention stipulates the right of a child to a standard of living appropriate to his level of development, the obligation of his parent in this regard, and the obligation of the State to assist his parents in this regard by providing material assistance when necessary. This article (as well as articles 25, 26, ff.) ensures the child’s social and economic rights. Indeed, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, perhaps more than any other international convention, is outstanding in its integration of civil and political rights with social and economic rights. Nevertheless, in Israel, such integration is not a fait accompli. Public debate still rages over the role of social rights in the tapestry of human rights. Moreover, rights that have not yet been fully recognized for adults remain incomplete for children, as well.
57. Additional, special problems arise in Israel as a result of its multi-religious and multi-ethnic population. A prime example of this is the variety of types of education offered in Israel. Alongside State education and State religious education systems, there are private, church-affiliated and private, ultra-orthodox Jewish institutions. Such institutions are relatively autonomous; children may attend them on the prerogative of their parents. Some claim that ultra-orthodox Jewish institutions in particular, which focus on religious studies, do not provide the basic secular studies that prepare students to function in the modern world, and consequently put them at a disadvantage socially and economically. Article 29 of the UN Convention addresses the tension between the aspiration toward cultural freedom, for parents, and the need to protect the rights and best interests of children; however, it is doubtful whether the stipulations of this article resolve the tension.
58. Lastly, like other countries with developed economies, Israel attracts foreign workers. These foreign workers (and their children), some of whom remain in Israel illegally, are eligible for the same basic human rights as are citizens and legal permanent residents. While certain rights - such as the right to free education - are provided, at least in part, to the children of foreign workers, many others are denied them, regardless of their parents’ legal status.
1. The status of the Convention in Israeli law
60. The United Nations (UN) Convention on the Rights of the Child was signed by the State of Israel on 3 July 1990 and ratified by the Knesset on 4 August 1991; it went into effect on 2 November 1991. Although the Convention does not have the status of law, it is often cited in rulings of both the supreme and the lower courts as a legal source and a basis of interpretation (for further detail, see Chapter II). Table 1 gives examples of rulings that were based on the tenets of the Convention.
61. The interpretive authority granted the Convention by its ratification reflects the State’s commitment to making its laws and legal norms congruent to the Convention. A Supreme Court judge has written that the law should be interpreted and enforced in a manner compatible with the Convention, deviating from the Convention in exceptional cases only. It should be noted that her two colleagues left this matter open to further study (Criminal Appeal 3112/94 Abu Hassan v. State of Israel (11.2.99. not yet published)). In another ruling, the Supreme Court determined that adherence to an international convention, which assumes mutuality, requires its uniform interpretation by all signatory countries. In December 2000, the Pupils’ Rights Law 2000 was passed. The first section of the law stipulates that the law’s aim is to determine the “ principles for the rights of the student, in the spirit of human dignity and the principles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child”.
62. The State of Israel is also a signatory to other international conventions concerning children. For example, since 1953, Israel has been a party to conventions of the International Labor Organization (ILO), primarily the Convention Concerning Medical Examination of Children and Young Persons in Non-industrial Occupations (No. 78, 1946); the Convention Concerning Medical Examination for Fitness for Employment in Industry of Children and Young Persons (No. 77, 1946); the Convention Concerning Night Work for Children and Young Persons in Industrial and Non-industrial Occupations (No. 90,1948 and No. 79, 1949). Since 1980, Israel has been a party to the International Labor Convention Concerning Minimum Age for Admission to Employment (No. 138, 1973). In addition, Israel is a party to the Hague Convention on International Private Law. Since 1991, Israel has been a party to the Hague Convention Concerning Civil Aspects of Child Kidnapping (No. 513 XXVIII, 1980), and since 1995, Israel has been a party to the Hague Convention Concerning the Protection of Children and Cooperation in Respect of Inter-country Adoption (1993).
Court rulings based on articles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child
63. In June 1997, the Minister of Justice appointed a “committee to examine fundamental principles concerning children and the law, and their implementation in legislation”. The minister appointed this committee to thoroughly examine Israeli law concerning the rights of the child and the child’s legal and welfare status, in light of the principles set down in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The committee was asked to examine the need for legislation, including amendments to current laws, so that the State could meet its commitment to the Convention. It was also asked to assess the need to write an integrative law regarding the status of children and youth, in light of the Convention and on the basis of a comprehensive, uniform perspective. The committee was further asked to examine the necessity of establishing agencies and mechanisms to implement, coordinate and regulate fulfillment of the rights of the child, as outlined in the Convention.
64. This committee comprises senior public and other officials from a variety of fields, including the court system, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, departments of social work, law and psychology of the universities, the system of mental health services for children, the Council for Child Welfare, and the Israel Bar Association. To date, five sub-committees have been established, which address the continuum of child protection, out-of-home placement, the child in the family, education, and the child in criminal proceedings.
65. In 1999, a project was implemented concurrent with the committee’s work, whose goal was to hear the views children, according to article 12 of the Convention. This project is being evaluated.
(c) Parliamentary activity
(i) Knesset members’ lobby for children
66. The first goal of this lobby is to promote legislation concerning the rights of the child. To this end, it coordinates proposed laws concerning children; monitors the status of tabled laws and the publication of reports; promotes proposed laws by lobbying the heads of relevant committees; reminds Knesset members to promote laws they have proposed; and increases Knesset members’ awareness of the lobby’s support of proposed laws concerning children. Furthermore, in 1997-1998, the lobby initiated 21 proposals for legislation.
67. In addition to its legislative activity, during the 14th Knesset the lobby organized site visits for Knesset members (e.g., to a juvenile detention hall, a school attended by the children of foreign workers, and a summer camp for disabled children), met on budget issues, observed “Convention on the Rights of the Child Day” in the Knesset, raised nine laws for debate before the plenum in one month alone (November 1997), organized a conference and participated in one-day conferences, and hosted guests from Israel and abroad.
68. The lobby also cooperates with relevant voluntary organizations, for example on one-day conferences like that held on the initiative of the National Council for the Child. This conference, titled, “Children in Israel 1998: Fifty Years of Activity, Another 50 Years of Commitment”, held at the Knesset in July 1998 during the State’s jubilee, addressed the current situation and trends for the future regarding children and the law, welfare, health, and education. Lecturers included government ministers, chairpersons of relevant parliamentary committees, professionals from public agencies (including the National Council for the Child), and representatives of youth. The lobby organized a question-and-answer session for youth council representatives with ministers and Knesset members.
(ii) Proposed bills on the rights of the child
69. A number of proposed bills (tabled in 1993, 1996 and 1997) sought to grant Section I (articles 1-41) of the Convention legal standing. Their proposal led to extensive discussion in the Knesset, which revealed the State’s commitment to the principles of the Convention, while reiterating that the Convention itself need not be made law. Following the establishment of the committee to examine fundamental principles concerning children and the law and their implementation in legislation (cited above), the Knesset members who had proposed these bills decided to shelve the proposals for the time being. In early 1997, a discussion was held in the committee on early childhood, which is a joint sub-committee of the labor and welfare and the education and culture committees. Representatives of the Ministry of Justice, the National Council for the Child, Defense for Children International (DCI), and the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs attended this discussion. The committee reported that “although six or more years have passed since [the Convention’s] ratification, the Convention’s principles and recommendations do not have sufficient influence on the living conditions and rights of children in Israel. … the authorities of the State of Israel are still coping with implementing the Convention on the Rights of the Child, even though some of its articles reflect the spirit in which the State itself acts on behalf of children”.
70. The work of this committee led to the establishment in July 1999 of a Knesset committee for the advancement of the status of the child, whose task it would be to comprehensively and holistically address issues concerning children, including their rights as outlined by the Convention. During its first year of activity, this committee (which was open to student council representatives), drafted three bills: one that would establish in every municipality and local authority of a permanent committee to promote the child; one that would establish rehabilitative day care centers for disabled and retarded children; and one that would ensure the placement of a young child at risk in a day care center. The committee discussed the health and welfare of children, problems in education, problems arising from the gaps in service provision to Arab children, emphasizing violence against children and among youth, the importance of early childhood, and the rights of children in the legal system. In addition, the committee organized discussions in the Knesset on children’s rights as a human right, literature and children, safety devices, and violence among youth, which were attended by hundreds of students, representatives of government ministries and voluntary organizations.
71. The Knesset is very active on behalf of children, establishing ad hoc committees on pressing issues, such as violence among youth. Recently, Knesset committees and the National Student Council have been working to establish a body of youth representatives (“the young legislator”) that will monitor the discussions of most Knesset committees.
(iii) Adaptation of laws
72. Recent years have seen extensive legislative activity on behalf of children (see Tables 2, 3 and 4). Many new bills and amendments to existing laws have been proposed, some of which have been ratified, some of which have been rejected, and some of which are still being debated in the relevant government ministries (for example, an initiative for comprehensive reform of the Youth (Trial, Punishment and Modes of Treatment) Law, and a proposed bill protecting the eligibility of children at risk for services).
Laws enacted during the past 10 years
Amendments to laws enacted during the past 10 years
(a) Initiatives of government ministries
74. Although no specific mechanisms for implementing the Convention have been established by the government, since ratification of the Convention, government ministries have initiated many changes that are compatible with the Convention’s principles. These initiatives are described in this report, as follows: for initiatives of the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, see the chapter on the family environment (Chapter VII); for initiatives of the Ministry of Education, see the chapter on education and recreation (Chapter IX) ; for initiatives of the Ministry of Health, see the chapter on health and welfare (Chapter VIII); and for initiatives of the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Public Security, see the chapter on special protection measures (Chapter X).
(b) Data collection and research as a basis of children’s rights
(i) Public agencies
75. A number of public agencies regularly publish information about children and youth, in the framework of the information they provide on the general population of Israel. The following agencies are among them.
76. The Central Bureau of Statistics collects a great deal of data on children as part of the many surveys it conducts. Some of these data are published annually in the Statistical Abstract of Israel , which includes data on the living conditions of children. The Abstract also presents data on the percentage of children in the population, household composition, birth rates and infant mortality, secure housing and youth probation services, education, morbidity, and social security. The Central Bureau of Statistics also produces special publications and periodicals - including the quarterly New Statistical Activities and Publications in Israel - which include information on government and public studies and which contain information about children. In addition, the Central Bureau of Statistics produces a series of publications on social indicators in fields such as education, health, and welfare, which contribute to current knowledge about children. Recently an inter-ministerial forum on statistics about children was established to coordinate government ministries and help in the collection and publication of data on children.
77. The National Insurance Institute publishes an annual report of its activities, which includes an analysis of the effect of its various programs. In the framework of these annual reports, a series is published which presents annual data on poverty, including the poverty rates among children and families with children. Occasionally, special issues are devoted to children. The Institute’s sizable research department also produces many studies on children.
78. A number of departments in the government ministries that provide services to children publish reports of their activities, as do some of the local authorities. However, these reports are not published regularly. Similarly, since services do not have comprehensive information systems, often these data are partial or are not up to date. To compensate, government ministries may conduct or commission studies in their areas of activity, or maintain constant reporting through the Central Bureau of Statistics (e.g., the series’ on education or on juvenile delinquency).
79. The National Institute of the Ministry of Health finances studies in all areas of health, including children’s health.
80. The Israel Center for Disease Control was recently established by the Ministry of Health; it generates and disseminates current data on health issues, including those concerning children.
81. The Henrietta Szold Institute, under the auspices of the Ministry of Education, conducts research on Israeli society, education and behavior.
(ii) Non-government agencies
82. The following non-government agencies also generate information, which may be relevant to the status and rights of children.
83. The Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel publishes an annual report analyzing government expenditure on education, welfare and health services, which sometimes includes articles concerning children.
84. The Adva Center is concerned with issues of equality and disparity in Israeli society, and periodically studies dimensions of equality. The center devotes a great deal of attention to issues pertaining to children and minorities.
85. The Center for Research and Policy Design of the National Council for the Child was established in 1991 as the applied research arm of the Council. Among its many activities, the center publishes the most complete statistical report on children in Israel. This statistical yearbook, The State of the Child in Israel, which is published in cooperation with JDC-Israel, the JDC-Brookdale Institute and government ministries, includes data from a variety of sources on most aspects of children’s lives. The Council also publishes a special report on immigrant children.
86. The NCJW Research Institute for Innovation in Education of the National Council of Jewish Women, under the auspices of the School of Education of The Hebrew University, conducts research on education, especially pertaining to the reduction of gaps.
87. The Center for Children and Youth of the JDC-Brookdale Institute was established to generate and disseminate the applied information necessary for the development of policy and programs that promote the welfare and education of children and youth. At present, the center conducts research on services for children at risk, children with disabilities, immigrant children and youth, health promotion, and youth leadership. The center also develops information systems for children’s services as a basis for planning, policymaking and identifying children at risk. Center staff also identify, document and disseminate successful approaches to and services for children. The center conducts separate studies of Arab children and youth, and cooperates with professionals from the Arab sector through a steering committee of Arab and Jewish experts on children. The steering committee is presently setting priorities for the promotion of Arab children and youth, and is preparing a comprehensive book on the subject.
88. The Minerva Center for Youth Studies was established in 1995 by the Minerva Foundation in Germany, and is adjunct to the University of Haifa. The center’s goal is to study issues concerning children and youth that are of interest to public policymakers. Accordingly, the center studies the attitudes and values of Jewish and Arab youth regarding democracy, the Israeli-Arab conflict, minorities and immigrants, violence in the family, drug abuse, juvenile delinquency and the like.
89. The Adler Center was established in 1997 by the School of Social Work of Tel Aviv University. The center conducts research into children at risk.
90. Sikkui - The Association for the Advancement of Equal Opportunities is a Jewish-Arab voluntary organization, which publishes an annual report on the equal rights and integration of Arabs. The annual report also contains information on children and children’s services.
(iii) Research into the Arab population
91. All of the above agencies study the entire population of children in Israel, both Jews and Arabs. In addition, the following agencies focus on the Arab population.
92. The Galilee Society - The Arab National Society for Health Research and Services conducted a survey of Arab children with special needs. The survey steering committee recommended establishing an initial data base to map the agencies that have data on children, particularly those newborn to age seven, and helping to formulate strategic interventions.
93. In 1999, the Center for Bedouin Studies and Development, under the auspices of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, published the first statistical yearbook on Bedouin in the Negev, which includes data on education, health and welfare.
(iv) Research into the immigrant population
94. The following agency generates data on immigrant children.
95. The Israel Association for Ethiopian Jews (IAEJ) is a voluntary agency that promotes the integration of Ethiopian immigrant students into the education system and into society. IAEJ collects data on aspects of the integration of Ethiopian students, such as scholastic achievements, drop-out rates, eligibility for matriculation, delinquency, and the interaction between the education system and parents. IAEJ publishes and disseminates its findings as a basis for action on behalf of Ethiopian students.
(c) Mechanisms regulating implementation of the Convention
96. As yet, there is no specific mechanism for regulating the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Nevertheless, the State Comptroller’s Office publishes an annual report citing shortcomings in government activities, including violations of children’s rights. For example, the 1995 State Comptroller’s report reviewed the functioning of the regular school attendance system, and found that tens of thousands of children do not attend school, in part due to a lack of elementary education frameworks for students with differing needs and levels. The 1993 State Comptroller’s report reviewed how welfare agencies handle the adoption of children at risk. The report found that adoption procedures were unduly long, and that there is no appropriate follow-up of children in out-of-home placements (e.g., institutions) who have no contact with their families, and who might have been suitable for adoption. The 1992 State Comptroller’s report made a thorough review of the discrepancies in educational inputs between the Jewish and Arab sectors. It found, for example, that fewer hours of educational enrichment are provided in the Arab sector, despite its lower level of achievements.
(d) The efforts of public agencies to implement the Convention
97. Many public bodies, including labor unions, work to implement the Convention. To illustrate, we will describe the work of two such unions - the Israel Teachers’ Union and the Israel Psychologists’ Union.
(i) The Israel Teachers’ Union
98. Through the Association of Teachers for the Advancement of Instruction and Education, the Israel Teachers’ Union is implementing a code of ethics for teachers. The code includes 35 articles covering four issues, including that of student-teacher relations. The code requires teachers to treat students with respect; to refrain from discriminating among students on the basis of race, gender, origin, political views, social status or any other reason; to be aware of and sensitive to a student’s problems and work to solve them; to assess a student’s scholastic achievements on a professional, conscionable basis; and to maintain confidentiality regarding a student’s status. Under the code, a teacher who is charged with assaulting a student can expect to have his teachers’ license revoked, and a teacher who insults a student because of his ethnic origin will be called to a disciplinary hearing.
99. Several years ago, a steering committee comprising senior educators and academics was established to formulate an ethical code. Initially, the committee conducted a study so as to formulate the basic values to which a teacher should aspire. A draft report of this study cites values such as sound judgment, liberty, responsibility, equality, respect for others, consideration, tolerance and solidarity, as expressed in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
100. In order to involve teachers in formulating the final version of the ethical code, steering committee members visit schools and present the draft of the code in an active workshop that includes the presentation of hypothetical dilemmas and discussion.
(ii) The Israel Psychologists’ Union
101. This organization actively participated in sessions of the Knesset committee on early childhood that concerned issues of psychology (e.g., promotion of legislation authorizing free education for very young children, development of a network of well-baby clinics). Union members also attended sessions of the sub-committee of the Knesset labor and welfare committee that addressed amendments to the Youth Law and the Treatment of Mentally Ill Law.
(a) Mechanisms for ensuring government and public allocation of resources to children
103. The methods of ensuring that the services to which children are entitled are indeed provided to them are anchored in law, in the regulations stipulated by law, and in the policy decisions of government ministries, as detailed in the Budget Law. The allocation of resources for families, health and welfare, education and recreation, and special protective measures is described more extensively in Chapters VII-X.
(b) Government expenditures on services for children
104. There is no comprehensive calculation of the expenditures on children from the national budget. However, we may consider the following data: During the first half of the 1990s, the social expenditure of the government - that is, the total government expenditure on education, health, personal welfare services and income maintenance - grew at an average annual rate of 8.7%. This growth reflected the change in the government’s priorities announced in 1993. During the latter half of the decade, the government decided to reduce its deficit and hence to reduce its budget; nevertheless, the government’s social expenditure continued to increase. In 1999, the social expenditure came to NIS 87 billion - 54% of the available income from debt returns, and 23% of the Gross National Product. (For a description of government expenditures on health and welfare, and education, see Chapters VIII and IX, respectively.)
(c) Reducing discrepancies among groups and geographic areas
105. Since ratification of the Convention, a number of steps have been taken to reduce gaps among population groups. Some of these concern children specifically, while others influence them indirectly. These steps are discussed extensively in the relevant chapters.
(a) Children’s rights organizations
107. This section describes organizations that deal with aspects of children’s rights.
108. DCI - Defense for Children International, Israel Section was established in Israel by Jewish and Arab professionals in 1987 with the aim of promoting the ratification and implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The organization works for children’s rights in the Jewish and Arab sectors. Following are its main areas of activity:
110. The National Council for the Child has been actively promoting children’s rights since 1979. It does not directly provide education, welfare or other services to children, but rather ensures that children’s rights are realized by promoting legislation, lobbying, conducting research, and engaging in public relations. In order to maintain its independence, the council does not accept assistance from government agencies; all of its income is from contributions and grants from organizations, foundations and private donors. The council has a number of departments and areas of activity:
Referrals to the Ombudsman for Children and Youth, by subject and sector, 1996
112. ELEM - Youth in Distress was established in 1983. Its main activities are initiating services for youth at risk, and influencing policy on youth at risk. ELEM finances or helps finance the projects of government agencies such as the Youth Protection Authority. ELEM establishes shelters for children who don’t have housing and operates vans to locate these youth; helps the Youth Protection Authority develop community hostels for youth (in cooperation with ASHALIM and DCI); establishes counseling centers in the form of coffee houses for youth; and provides treatment and vocational training for young women immigrants from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia. ELEM also trains professionals in the treatment of youth who have committed sex crimes (see Chapter X). Further, ELEM lobbies for children’s rights and for the allocation of money to programs for youth who have nowhere to live. ELEM coordinated an operative program and the publication of an inter-ministerial and inter-organizational report on commercial sexual exploitation of minors. ELEM was also the driving force behind the establishment of the Knesset committee to examine violence among youth.
113. Yeladim - Council for the Child in Placement promotes the rights of children living in out-of-home frameworks, and works to improve the quality of their lives (see Chapter VII).
114. ELI - Israel Association for Child Protection provides services to children who have suffered abuse in the family (see Chapter VII). It raises public awareness of child abuse through educational programs, advertisements, and appearances on radio and television, and lobbies on behalf of child victims. ELI helped promote the amendment to the Penal Law that requires reporting child abuse, which was ratified in 1989. ELI is currently lobbying to develop appropriate services for immigrant children.
115. MEITAL - The Israeli Center for the Treatment of Child Sexual Abuse directly provides therapeutic services children and youth who were sexually abused and their families. It also trains professionals, works to increase public awareness of sexual abuse of children, and is establishing an information center.
116. JDC-Israel, the Israeli branch of the international Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), helps other organizations establish and improve services, and works to strengthen voluntary organizations and lobbies. JDC projects are active among all of Israel’s sub-populations, and especially among minorities. Children and youth are a top priority of this organization. During the 1990s, JDC-Israel developed new approaches to the care of immigrant youth from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia. At present, it coordinates a coalition of organizations that promote the education of Ethiopian immigrant children. JDC-Israel has also developed services for Arab children and youth, including one to prevent their dropping out of school. In 1998, JDC-Israel, in cooperation with the Israeli government, established ASHALIM, which develops and disseminates innovative programs for children at risk and encourages inter-ministerial and inter-organizational cooperation. Together with the National Council for the Child, JDC-Israel publishes a statistical yearbook on children. JDC-Israel publishes pamphlets in Russian about children’s rights, and helps finance the activities of the Ombudsman for Immigrant Children and Youth. JDC-Israel helps train professionals concerning children’s rights by participating in a course given at the School of Education of Bar Ilan University and by publishing a book on children’s rights in the education system. JDC-Israel helps establish pilot programs. It also works to improve existing organizations that take an innovative approach to caring for children at risk in the family and community, and to complete the continuum of services for children in a variety of situations.
117. SHATIL: Employment and Training Center for Social Change Organizations in Israel helps develop voluntary organizations under the auspices of the New Israel Fund, which financially supports organizations that protect human rights, especially the rights of minorities. For example, SHATIL helped publish a report on special education in the Arab sector.
(i) Organizations in the Arab sector
118. All of the organizations that work on behalf of children’s rights in Israel work with all segments of the population, and view equality among them as a goal. Within the Arab sector, a number of organizations concentrate on the rights and welfare of Arab children.
119. During the past decade, the number of voluntary organizations and public associations in the Arab sector has grown. Nevertheless, activists in these organizations estimate that their scope is still limited and does not cover all problems: Some of them are active to a limited extent, while others are intensely active in specific areas. This creates confusion among the Arab population regarding the role of each organization, as well as a certain vagueness that makes it difficult to map the organizations. In general, some of these organizations work specifically on behalf of children, particularly in the field of education (The Follow-up Committee on Arab Education; Altufula Center - Nazareth Nursery Institute; The Trust of Programs for Early Childhood, Family and Community Education; Acre Women’s Association; Insann - The Society for Applied Research, Cultural and Educational Services), while others work on behalf of the entire population but also address the welfare of children (Adalah - The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel; Galilee Society - The Arab National Society for Health Research and Services; The Follow-up Committee on Arab Social Services; Ittijah - Union of Arab Community-based Associations). To illustrate, we will describe five of the organizations cited.
120. The Follow-up Committee on Arab Education was established by and works under the National Committee of the Heads of Arab Local Authorities as a lobby to promote education in the Arab sector. This voluntary organization aims to improve all aspects of Arab education, from facilities and equipment to teaching methods, from the official goals of education to the contents of the curriculum. To this end, the committee cooperates with public agencies (the Ministry of Education, the Knesset committee on education), lobbies the Ministry of Education and members of Knesset, raises public awareness of the problems of Arab education through advertisement, one-day conferences, and publications, raises the awareness of decisionmakers in the field of education, cooperates with other voluntary organizations in the field, enlists the assistance of the Association for Civil Rights on legal matters, and wages a public battle that sometimes erupts in strikes and disruptions of the system. Cultural autonomy in Arab education in Israel is a top priority of this committee (Hazaan, 1998).
121. Altufula Early Childhood Center was established in 1989 to promote early childhood education and advance women in the Arab sector. In addition to providing local services for young children and their parents, the center is establishing an infrastructure for very young children in the Arab sector by training manpower, disseminating professional literature, distributing books to children, publishing an information leaflet, and holding one-day conferences. The center helps establish educational frameworks for very young children through contact with the government, local authorities, and professionals in the field. It cooperates with other voluntary organizations in lobbying for services for very young children.
122. Adalah - The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel was the first Arab legal organization in Israel; it was established in November 1996 and formally registered as an association in December 1997. Adalah offers its services to the Arab minority throughout the country. Its main goal is to use Israeli law, comparative law, and international human rights standards to achieve equal rights for Arabs, as individuals and as a group. Adalah focuses on land and housing, employment, education, language, religion, unrecognized villages, women, and allocation of government budgets. Since 1997, Adalah has filed a number of claims with the Supreme Court, among them three concerning children and youth (transportation to school, educational enrichment programs, well-baby clinics). In March 1998, Adalah published a shadow document regarding implementation of the convention to eliminate all forms of racial discrimination in Israel. Although there is no specific reference to children in the above document, there is a chapter that deals with rights in education (Adalah, 1998).
123. Galilee Society - The Arab National Society for Health Research and Services was founded in 1981 by a group of physicians to reinforce health services in the Arab sector, in part by establishing clinics in unrecognized villages. Over the years, activity has expanded to the entire country. While the association initially dealt with health and the environment, since ratification of the National Health Insurance Law its activities have been reduced to operating a mobile clinic in unrecognized villages in the Negev, under contract to the Ministry of Health. The association is trying to establish a library for the blind, and to hold education programs for parents and professionals who work with children with special needs. The association plans to conduct a survey of Arab children with special needs.
124. The Follow-up Committee on Arab Social Services was established by the National Committee of Heads of Arab Local Authorities in 1987, and comprises professionals from the Arab local authorities. The committee lobbies for improved welfare services for the Arab population, and aspires to induce the government to reduce gaps in the extent of services provided. Every year the committee chooses a main area of activity, such as the welfare of Arabs in the Negev. No matter what the area, attention is also paid to the needs of children, who comprise half of the Arab population. The committee places issues on the public agenda through the media and one-day conferences, and through public battles, such as a joint struggle with the Union of Social Workers to establish welfare departments in all of the Arab local authorities, as stipulated by the Social Services Law.
(ii) Organizations for immigrant children
125. Several organizations work specifically for immigrant children. As an example, we will cite the North American Council on Ethiopian Jewry (NACOEJ), which works on behalf of Ethiopian immigrants, particularly children, in Israel. NACOEJ participates in public debate, promoting the integration of Ethiopian immigrant children into education and making sure this issue remains on the public agenda. It also operates intervention programs for Ethiopian immigrants in education frameworks (see also Chapter IX).
(iii) Organizations for children with disabilities
126. At present, a number of organizations specifically help children with disabilities. Usually, each organization works on behalf of a specific disabled population (for example, ALUT - The Israeli Society for Autistic Children, MICHA - Society for Deaf Children). We will present two examples of such organizations (see also Chapter VIII).
127. KESHER, an information, counseling and support center for parents of children with special needs, was established in 1989 by the Jerusalem Council for Children and Youth; in 1993 it became an independent non-profit national association. KESHER’s professionals counselors assist parents through the maze of services and multitude of service providers involved in their child’s care by helping them to sort out difficulties and reconnecting them to the relevant services. KESHER’s Hotline for parents and professionals operates in Hebrew, Arabic, Russian and Amharic. Information is constantly updated via a bi-monthly newsletter, as well as in pamphlets on specific issues. A national network of local branches is being developed.
128. Bizchut - The Israeli Center for Human Rights of People with Disabilities was founded by the Israel Association for Civil Rights and promotes the rights, welfare and well-being of disabled people of all ages. It provides legal consultation and representation in education, housing, and employment, and disseminates information on the rights of the disabled. In addition, it lobbies for appropriate legislation for the disabled, and works to increase public awareness.
(b) Non-government organizations’ interaction with the Government
129. Many voluntary organizations have extensive contact with government agencies, and receive some funding from the government. While non-government organizations are not systematically involved in planning policy, their influence has increased in recent years, and they take initiative in developing services and promoting legislation for the best interests of the child.
(a) Translating and publishing the Convention
131. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child was translated into Hebrew by the Ministry of Justice and published in May 1993 in the Official Gazette (K.A. 1038). DCI has been most active in disseminating the text of the Convention, and to date has distributed 10,000 copies of it in Hebrew, Arabic, English, Russian and Amharic, primarily through the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Justice. The Hebrew text of the Convention appears on the DCI website. The National Council for the Child disseminates an abstract of the Convention in Hebrew.
(b) Including the Convention in curricula
132. In 1994, the Ministry of Education published a document entitled Involvement, Partnership and Responsibility . This document concentrates on the rights of the individual at school, and draws a parallel between the rights of the student in school and the rights of the individual in society. The Ministry also disseminated a “School Convention” to implement the principles outlined in the document. The School Convention recognizes the right of students to express their opinion, and to criticize and suggest improvements in school life. It does not obligate schools (as does a Ministry of Education director-general’s decree), but rather makes recommendations, which a school may accept or reject. Since publication of the document, tens of secondary schools have introduced experimental “school conventions” (see Chapter IX).
133. In 1995, a book was published on the rights of children, which emphasized what was being done in the education system (Gilat, 1995). The book presents the outcomes of a study of 25 civics textbooks and curricula between 1948 and 1990, which were used with students in grades seven through 12 in academic and vocational schools in the State and State religious systems. The study revealed a significant lack of attention to children’s rights in civic studies.
(c) Disseminating the Convention among professionals
134. Unions are aware of the need to disseminate the Convention to professionals who work with children. Following we will present a number of examples of this.
135. Psychologists: According to the head of the Israel Psychologists’ Union, the chief psychologist of the Ministry of Education is disseminating the Convention to educational psychologists and SHEFI (Psychological Counseling Services) stations, and encouraging psychologists to help schools take comprehensive responsibility for fulfilling the rights of students.
136. Police officers and youth workers on the police force: According to the head of the youth section at police headquarters, the Israel Police Force provides guidance and in-service training on child victims of crime, with the aim of increasing the efficiency and sensitivity of the police force in handling them. Regarding minors who have perpetrated crimes, new guidelines, regulations and laws in the sprit of the Convention have been distributed to youth workers and field units, and are strictly enforced. Training programs for youth workers include the Convention (see Chapter X).
137. Teachers: As noted, the Israel Teachers’ Union is establishing an ethical code. At present, a pilot has been introduced into several hundred schools, giving teachers an opportunity to review and examine a draft of the code. In this way, the Convention on the Rights of the Child is disseminated among teachers. In 1990, the Ministry of Education established a hotline for students’ complaints of injustice or discrimination in the education system. One goal of the hotline is to inform and counsel educators on students’ rights. The professional ethical guidelines for hotline staff jibe with the Convention (see Chapter IX).
138. Physicians: The medical ethics published by the Israel Medical Association and ratified at the association’s 38th convention require preserving the confidentiality of all patients, including children. Specific attention is paid to children in several other clauses. The association also made a declaration to the World Medical Union regarding the rights of the child patient (see Chapter VIII).
139. Lawyers: The Jerusalem Bar Association held a course for lawyers on all of the UN’s conventions. A joint program of the State’s attorney general, the National Council for the Child, and JDC-Israel trains lawyers on crimes against children.
140. Social workers: At a conference on children at risk, the deputy attorney general spoke on children at risk and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
(d) Disseminating the Convention in the mass media
141. As noted, the National Council for the Child publicizes the activities of the Ombudsmen for Children and Youth, and issues of children’s rights in general. For example, for the third consecutive year the council is sponsoring a regular corner on a radio program, which presents actual cases in the care of the Ombudsman for Children and Youth. The council also broadcasts a television program specifically dealing with children’s rights. In addition, regular radio programs for immigrants are broadcast in Russian and Amharic. The council also publicizes items in the print media, particularly those for children and youth.
142. An interesting example of the Convention’s dissemination is offered by a Hebrew-Arabic magazine for children with a circulation of between 4,000 and 5,000 copies; it is distributed through organizations, schools and libraries. In response to children’s letters to the editor, the magazine produced a special issue on children’s rights which covered children’s rights in the world, defining children’s rights, child labor, and whether teachers teach children their rights.
(e) Preparation of this report
143. This report was prepared and financed by the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The authors of this report consulted with judges, members of Knesset, and representatives of the Ministries of Education, Labor and Social Affairs, Health, and Public Security, and NGOs. Prior to its submission to the Untied Nations, this report was disseminated in Hebrew to voluntary organizations, and a seminar was held to discuss the issues raised in it.
1. Defining childhood and legal minority
145. Section 3 of the Guardianship and Legal Capacity Law 1962 stipulates that “an individual who has not reached the age of 18 is a minor; an individual who has reached the age of 18 is an adult”, subject to specific rulings. In this, Israeli law upholds the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
146. Section 1 of the Guardianship and Legal Capacity Law 1962 stipulates that an individual has rights and incurs obligations from birth until death. From this we infer that fetuses do not have rights, nor do they incur obligations. Nevertheless, specific rulings - which, as noted, may overrule the general stipulations of the Guardianship and Legal Capacity Law - grant fetuses the protection or rights granted children.
147. Thus, for example, the definition of a “child” in section 2 of the Civil Wrongs Ordinance [New Version] does “include[ing] ... fetuses”. According to section 3(b) of the Succession Law 1965, an individual is eligible to inherit if he or she “was born within 300 days of the death of the person bequeathing the inheritance…unless it is proven that his parentage was post facto”.
148. The right to vote for the Knesset and the prime minister is granted from the age of 18. A recently-ratified law grants the right to vote in local or municipal elections from the age of 17. The right to be elected to the Knesset and to a local or municipal authority is granted from the age of 21. The right to be elected prime minister is granted from the age of 30. The right to be a member of a political party is granted from the age of 17 (see section 20 of the Political Parties Law 1992).
(b) Identity card
149. Residents of the State of Israel are obligated to obtain and carry an identity card from the age of 16. A minor who has not reached the age of 16 may obtain an identity card with the consent of his representative or the approval of the chief records clerk.
151. For example, the Magistrates’ (Circuit) Court in Jerusalem ruled that a young person age 17 has the right to own a dog, as receiving a dog as a gift “is an act that minors his age might perform”, while the District Court in Beer Sheva ruled that purchasing a gas balloon for household use was an act a minor age 12 might perform. However, some legal actions of minors - for example, actions that have economic weight, such as selling an apartment, or actions that involve a conflict of interest between the minor and his representative, such as a business transaction between them - require the approval of the court, as the consent of the minor’s representative is deemed insufficient.
152. Consent to medical treatment is a legal action, and therefore requires the approval of a minor’s representative. This is specifically stipulated in section 13(c) of the Patients’ Rights Law 1996.
153. Nevertheless, some medical treatments may be performed with the consent of the minor, without the consent of his representative. These include abortion (section 316 of the Penal Law 1977); a test to detect the presence of the AIDS virus (if a physician has explained the meaning of the test, found that the minor understood the explanation, and believes that the minor has sufficient emotional maturity; for minors under age 14, the approval of a team of professionals, comprising a physician and a social worker, is required (Detection of the AIDS Virus in Minors Law 1996)); and, for minors over age 15, mental health care, including hospitalization, with the approval of the court (section 3G of the Youth (Care and Supervision) Law 1960, and section 4B of the Treatment of Mentally Ill Law 1991). Medical treatment without parental consent is possible - with the approval of the court - for minors whose parents do not show proper concern for their welfare (sections 2 and 3 of the Youth (Care and Supervision) Law 1960). In such cases, the minor is assisted by a welfare worker. At present the Ministry of Health is preparing guidelines for physicians regarding the routine treatment of minors age 14 and over, without parental consent.
(b) Refusal to receive medical treatment
154. The law gives no specific instruction in the case of a minor who refuses to receive medical treatment - not as a consequence of mental illness - in defiance of his parents’ wishes. This issue has been raised in the Supreme Court, but has not been decided. However, under some circumstances it is possible to provide medical treatment to any individual, including a minor, without his consent. (See Chapter VIII.)
155. A boy or girl who has reached the age of 15 can oppose admission to a psychiatric hospital even when his or her guardian has consented to it; in such a case, the court may appoint a lawyer to represent the minor (section 13 of the Youth (Care and Supervision) Law 1960).
158. Under section 2 of the Youth Employment Law 1953 it is permissible to employ a child who has reached the age of 15 and who works as an apprentice under the Apprenticeship Law 1953; a child age 15 who has completed his compulsory education; and a child age 14 whose employment has been approved by the Minister of Labor and who has been excused from compulsory education. Employers of youths of compulsory school age are required to release them to attend school, without debiting their salary, during school days and hours. Failure to fulfill this obligation is a criminal offense (under section 4(c) of the Compulsory Education Law 1949). Children who have not yet reached the age of 14 may work during official school vacations in light jobs that do not endanger their health or development (section 2A of the Youth Employment Law 1953). Under section 4 of the Youth Employment Law 1953, the Minister of Labor and Social Affairs may permit the employment of children under the age of 15 in artistic productions or advertising photographs, for a limited time. (For a description of the restrictions on the hours and types of employment permitted to children and youth, see Chapter X.)
160. The Marriage Age Law 1950 stipulates that the minimum age of marriage, for men and women, is 17. According to section 2 of the law, it is a criminal offense to marry a young man or woman who has not reached the age of 17, or to assist in conducting the marriage of such young men and women. The young man or woman does not commit an offense under the law if he or she marries prior to reaching age 17, unless his or her partner has also not reached the age of 17.
161. According to section 5 of the law, Family Court is authorized to permit the marriage of a young woman if she has conceived or given birth to a child by the man whom she wishes to marry, and may permit the marriage of a young man if the woman whom he wishes to marry has conceived or given birth to his child. Under certain circumstances, the court may permit the marriage if the young man or woman have reached the age of 16. Circumstances that invoke the court’s leniency are the desire of the youths and their parents for the marriage, ethnic customs, economic considerations, and extensive preparations for marriage (see Civil Appeal 50/81 Attorney General v. Anonymous Defendant , P.D. 35(4) 430; Civil Appeal 690/77 Hanifam v. State of Israel , P.D. 42(1) 531).
162. According to Jewish religious law ( halacha ), which in Israel confers validity on the marriage of Jews conducted within its borders, it is possible to marry a girl of any age, but the girl herself may decide to marry only when she has reached the age of 12 and a half. A Jewish boy may be married from the age of 13, and he himself may decide to marry at this age. According to Moslem law (shari’a ), a father may promise his daughter in marriage from the age of nine, but a girl may decide to marry only when she has reached the age of 17. A Moslem boy may be married from the age of 12, and he himself may decide to marry from the age of 18. According to the Christian law practiced in Israel, a boy may marry from the age of 16 and a girl from the age of 14. Under all of the religious laws reviewed, the age of marriage of girls is younger than that of boys. In any case, as noted, the criminal sanction against the marriage of children is stipulated in a Knesset law, which also sets a uniform marriage age for boys and girls of all religions. In reality, the marriage rate of young men and women in Israel is very low (see Chapters VII and X).
165. Section 34F of the Penal Law 1977 stipulates that “an individual is not criminally liable for an act he committed before reaching the age of 12 years”. Nevertheless, delinquent acts of children under age 12 may be cause for initiating tortious proceedings under the Youth (Care and Supervision) Law 1960. Minors who have not reached the age of 13 will be prosecuted only in consultation with a probation officer (see section 12 of the Youth (Trial, Punishment and Modes of Treatment) Law 1971). (See also Chapter X.)
(b) Tortious liability
166. Section 9 of the Civil Wrongs Ordinance [New Version] relieves children under the age of 12 of liability for civil wrongs. It is not possible to sue a minor (under age 18) for a civil wrong resulting directly or indirectly from a contract he made. However, a minor’s tortious immunity does not preclude the possibility of filing a claim against him of possession on the basis of ownership, or of filing a contractual claim in a matter considered one that a minor his age might perform, including for violation of the obligation to bona fides (best interests faith) in negotiating a contract. Minors are not released from liability for contributory guilt, which is determined according to the degree of caution required of minors of tortious age.
(c) Statute of limitations
167. As a rule, the civil statute of limitations in Israel is seven years (see section 5 of the Prescription Law 1958). According to section 10 of that law, in calculating the period of limitations, the time before the plaintiff reached the age of 18 is not to be considered; thus, an individual can bring suit for events that took place when he was a minor up until the age of 25.
168. According to section 14 of the Youth (Trial, Punishment and Modes of Treatment) Law 1971, “a minor may not be tried for an offense if a year has passed since the offense was committed, except with the consent of the attorney general”.
169. In offenses of rape, consensual, unlawful sexual intercourse, pederasty and indecent acts committed against a minor, the period of limitations begins the day the victim reaches the age of 18. If ten years have passed since the offense was committed, no indictment may be made, except with the approval of the attorney general (section 345 of the Penal Law 1977).
170. The Youth (Trial, Punishment and Modes of Treatment) Law 1971 and the Criminal Procedure (Enforcement Powers - Arrests) Law 1996 set restrictions on the detention of minors. While adults may be detained without a court order for 24 hours, children up to the age of 14 may be detained without a court order for only 12 hours; in special circumstances, the duty officer at a police station may order continued detention for an additional period, which is not to exceed 12 additional hours. Regarding minors ages 14-18, at present, the arrangement for their detention without a court order is similar to that for an adult. In other words, they may be detained without a court order for to up to 24 hours; in special cases, this period may be extended by an additional 24 hours (see Chapter VII).
171. Under section 10(4) of the Youth (Trial, Punishment and Modes of Treatment) Law 1971, which addresses detention prior to indictment, juvenile court is authorized to order the detention of a minor for a period that is not to exceed ten days (instead of 15 days for an adult) and to extend detention, from time to time, for periods that are not to exceed ten days. A minor suspect may not be detained continuously for the same offense, including without a court order, for a period in excess of 20 days (instead of 30 for an adult), unless a request for continued detention has been filed with the consent of the attorney general. It should be noted that the maximum period of detention prior to indictment is identical for minors and adults: 90 days (section 51 of the Criminal Procedure (Enforcement Powers - Arrest) Law 1996).
172. Section 13 of the Youth (Trial, Punishment and Modes of Treatment) Law 1971 requires the separation of minor and adult detainees (see Chapter X).
(b) Detention for protective purposes
173. In Israel it is also permissible to detain a minor to protect him. Section 10(3) of the Youth (Trial, Punishment and Modes of Treatment) Law 1971 stipulates that “the judge before whom a minor is brought is authorized to order his detention if this is required to ensure the minor’s personal safety or to remove him from the company of an undesirable individual”. A police officer is authorized to order detention on these grounds for 12 hours, until the minor is brought before a judge, and in special circumstances for 24 hours. (This section of the law is disputed; for further detail see Chapter X.)
174. According to the Youth (Trial, Punishment and Modes of Treatment) Law 1971, it is possible to impose a punishment of imprisonment on a child who is age 14 at the time of his sentencing. In sentencing a minor, the Juvenile Court must consider, inter alia, the age of the minor when he committed the offense. For minors, the tendency of the court is to prefer methods of treatment that are not imprisonment (see Chapter X).
175. It is forbidden to imprison a minor with adults (section 25 of the Youth (Trial, Punishment and Modes of Treatment) Law 1971).
(d) Closed residences
176. Closed residences, as defined in the Youth (Trial, Punishment and Modes of Treatment) Law 1971, serve as out-of-home residences or the locus of custody for a minor referred to them by the Commissioner of Residences. A minor may be sent to a closed residence as a punishment or as a treatment alternative to punishment. Also, a minor who is under the age of criminal liability, and a minor who is a danger to himself and others and who has been declared a minor in need may be sent to a closed residence (see Chapters VII and X).
178. While the death penalty formally exists in Israel in a very limited number of extremely severe cases listed below, Israel applies a moratorium on executions. In fact, the death penalty has never been implemented since the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, with one exception - in 1962, in the case of the Nazi criminal Eichmann, who was convicted of genocide under the 1950 Nazi Collaborators (Punishment) Law. In addition, since 1954 Israel has removed the death penalty for the crime of murder from its penal code and its military law.
179. The five rare and extreme instances in which the death penalty formally exists in Israeli law are with regard to murder of persecuted persons during the Nazi Regime and during World War II for crimes against the Jewish people and against humanity, genocide or assisting in the act of genocide, treason of soldiers in time of armed conflict, treason during war, and the sabotage and unauthorized use or transfer of firearms and explosive materials.
180. In any event, the death penalty cannot be imposed on any person who was a minor at the time of committing the offense. (Section 25(b) of the Youth (Trial, Punishment and Modes of Treatment) Law 1971).
181. According to the Evidence Ordinance [New Version] 1971, children of every age may testify in court. However, the court must examine the ability of child witnesses to present a precise testimony of what they have experienced.
(b) Admissible testimony
182. When ruling in matters of civil law, the court must explain its decision to base itself on the sole testimony of a minor younger than age 14 that was not corroborated, regardless of whether the minor bears criminal liability (section 54 of the Evidence Ordinance).
183. When ruling in matters of criminal law, an individual may not be convicted on the basis of the sole testimony of a minor whose age at the time of testimony is less than 12 years (the age of criminal liability), unless additional evidence corroborates the child’s testimony (section 55 of the Evidence Ordinance). The reason for this is that a minor below the age of criminal liability may not be punished for perjury.
(c) Limitations on the testimony of minors
184. The Evidence Ordinance Revision (Protection of Children) Law 1955 restricts the testimony of minors to certain areas. The restrictions are not a consequence of the incapacity of minors to testify, but rather are meant to protect minors in general, and children under the age of 14 in particular. Section 2 of this law stipulates that minors who have not reached the age of 14 may not testify concerning an offense against morality (i.e. crimes of prostitution and vice, sex crimes, and crimes committed by an adult against a child for whom he is responsible, including violation of parental responsibilities, and assault or abuse of a minor or helpless person), or concerning some offenses against the body perpetrated upon or in the presence of or by a minor. A minor’s testimony in these matters is only accepted on the authority of a youth interrogator, and only if the youth interrogator believes that testifying will not cause the minor mental anguish. According to section 9 of the law, if the youth interrogator has forbidden the testimony of a minor, the minor’s admission to the investigator may be presented as evidence in place of his testimony. However, according to section 11 of the law, such evidence cannot be the sole basis of conviction, and must be corroborated (see Chapter X).
185. The court is authorized to order that the testimony of a minor under the age of 18 against his parents in a criminal proceeding for a sex offense must be heard in the absence of his parents and in the presence of his defense attorney, so as to protect the witness from mental anguish (section 2A of the law).
187. The choice between these two methods of representation is made based on the minor’s emotional maturity, though as a rule, representation is provided by the minor’s guardian - usually his parents. Section 13 of the Youth (Care and Supervision) Law 1960 stipulates that a minor who objects to psychiatric hospitalization has the right from the age of 15 to independent representation by a lawyer. The National Council for the Child and DCI help children by providing them with the services of a lawyer or legal guardian.
188. Legal representation of a minor in specific proceedings. Regarding certain proceedings, specific attention is paid by legislation and case law as to the representation of minors. Below we review situations in which the usual rule - that is that the guardian serves as representative - does not apply.
189. Private law proceedings. Section 3(d) of the Family Courts Law 1995 stipulates that a minor is authorized, by himself or through a close friend, to file a legal claim in any family matter in which his rights may have been violated. In addition, a minor can file a request as part of a legal claim filed by someone else, and can appear in court. However, neither the law nor the regulations arising from the law arrange for the appointment of a lawyer to represent the minor. Such representation is important in all of those cases in which there is factual evidence that the best interests of the minor would be neglected in a battle between his parents - his natural guardians. At present, the Supreme Court has ruled that it is possible to obtain independent representation for a minor through the appointment of a legal guardian (see Civil Appeal 878/96 Pozilov v. Pozilov , P.D. 50(5) 208). Some believe that it is also possible to appoint a lawyer for a minor, and not only a legal guardian.
190. Public Law Proceedings. In proceedings to determine need under the Youth (Care and Supervision) Law 1960, the initial request to declare a minor as being in need is filed by a welfare worker. However, under section 14 of the law, a minor may himself file a request to change the decision of a juvenile court and may be a respondent in such proceedings. There is no instruction to appoint a lawyer for a minor in such a case, even though the proceedings may infringe on the minor’s rights (with his parents’ tacit consent or even support). In such proceedings, Family Court and Juvenile Court are authorized to appoint a legal guardian for the minor.
191. In proceedings according to the Adoption of Children Law 1981, section 23 of that law authorizes the court to appoint a legal guardian for an adopted child or candidate for adoption.
192. Section 18(a) of the Youth (Trial, Punishment and Modes of Treatment) Law 1971 authorizes a court sitting in a criminal proceeding against a minor to appoint a defense attorney for the minor without the consent of his parents, if it believes that his best interests so requires. Juvenile courts are not wont to use this authority because of the rehabilitative nature of their work (see Chapter X). In certain cases the court is obligated to appoint a defense attorney for a minor who is not represented for the same reasons that apply to an adult defendant; the court is also required to appoint a defense attorney for a minor defendant who has not reached the age of 16 and who has been brought before a court that is not a juvenile court (see Chapter X). According to the Public Defender’s (Entitlement to Representation of Additional Minors) Regulations 1998, minors are eligible for representation by the public defender in criminal proceedings if they have been detained or indicted (with the exception of an indictment for an offense that is not a crime, which is made before a traffic court judge). Given the increasing practice of legal representation of minors in criminal and civil trials, the contract between a minor and a lawyer may be seen as being “an act a minor might perform”, and hence not require the consent of the minor’s representative (section 6 of the Guardianship and Legal Capacity Law 1962).
194. There is no systematic data on the extent to which minors are actually heard in court, or on how their proposals are weighed. According to information received from the chief child protection officer pursuant to the Youth Law, a hearing depends on the minor’s age, as well as on the opinions of the child protection officer and the judges sitting in the case (see Chapter VII).
196. It is acceptable in court rulings to consider the wishes of a child beginning at approximately age ten, as the child’s preference from this age is thought to be an important indicator, at least prima facie, of his future best interests and happiness. The weight given a child’s wishes depends on his age, his discrimination and judgment, and the degree to which he is vulnerable to outside influence. The Supreme Court distinguishes between a preference for one parent, and strenuous opposition to one parent (Civil Appeal 740/ Anonymous Plaintiff v. Anonymous Defendant , P.D. 43(1) 661). However, at present, a child’s preference does not legally have decisive weight - unlike cases of adoption or conversion (see Chapter VII).
Delivery of a minor under the Execution of Judgments Law
198. Section 62 of the Execution of Judgments Law 1967 stipulates that if a court rules that a minor must be delivered, or that contact, visitation or communication must be allowed between a parent and his minor child who is not in his custody, or that any other action be taken in the matter of the minor, and if the court rules that the action is to be carried out through the Execution of Judgments Office, the executor will take all of the steps necessary to comply with the ruling, and will be assisted in this by the welfare worker. Section 62(b) of the law qualifies this instruction, stating that if the Execution of Judgments Office has determined that the ruling cannot be carried out except against the will of the minor, and the Execution of Judgments Office believes that the minor is capable of comprehending this, then the head of the Execution of Judgments Office is authorized to petition the court that made the ruling and request instructions. Section 62 does not make this conditional upon the minor’s age, but rather on his legal capacity, which is expressed in his ability to “understand the matter” (for further detail see Chapter VII).
200. For example, one ruling, which was based in part on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, determined that a 16-year-old girl who had been raised all her life by a foster family was authorized to change her family name to that of the foster family. However, as this ruling was handed down by a District Court it does not constitute a binding precedent, although it may guide the lower courts.
202. According to the Succession Law 1965, if an individual dies intestate, his children are the beneficiaries of the first order. In any case, even if he has left a will and regardless of what is written therein, his minor children (including, as noted, those who were fetuses at the time of his death, as well as children out of wedlock, adopted children, and grandchildren who were orphaned before his death or whose welfare was his concern and responsibility, in lieu of parents who could not uphold the children’s maintenance) are eligible for child support from the estate. Removing a minor from his portion of the estate, or transferring his portion, or putting a lien thereon before the estate has been distributed, requires the consent of the court.
203. According to section 24 of the Succession Law 1965, minors are not capable of being witnesses to the making of a will. According to section 26 of the law, minors are not capable of bequeathing, and the will of a minor is invalid.
208. At the age of 17½ a minor may receive a driver’s license for most types of private and commercial vehicle, if the vehicle’s total weight does not exceed four tons and its maximum number of passengers does not exceed eight. During the first year after receiving the license, the minor must drive while accompanied by an experienced driver. Beginning at age 21, an individual may receive a license to drive a bus, taxi or rescue vehicle.
209. The law allows a minor to begin taking driving lessons before reaching the age at which he is permitted to receive a license. Thus it is possible to begin learning to drive a motorcycle (up to 50 cc) or a tractor at age 15, and most types of private vehicle at age 17.
210. At age 17, a minor may file a request to receive an apprentice pilot’s license.
Definition of the child: summary of the rights and obligations of minors
213. Receipt of medical treatment without parental consent and the appointment of a lawyer by the minor himself are considered legal actions. Therefore, under the Guardianship and Legal Capacity Law, a minor cannot himself consent to receive medical treatment, nor can he appoint legal counsel for himself.
214. The legislation allows the provision of medical treatment with the consent of the minor alone in only two extreme instances, which society wishes to prevent or encourage: performing an abortion, and performing a test for the AIDS virus. In these two cases, if the minor consents, the decision of whether to accept his consent rests with the relevant professional (e.g., a physician), who is instructed to determine the degree to which the minor is capable of making the decision and understanding its consequences. Concerning psychiatric care, the consent of a minor from the age of 15, as well as of his guardian, must be obtained, or else the decision must be made by the court. In reality, relatively young children, with the help of professionals, do make very grave decisions about their medical condition, even though the legislator does not perceive them as being capable of making other serious decisions (e.g., a minor may consent to an abortion, even though the legislator assumes she is not capable of making the decision to take birth control pills, which would preclude the need for an abortion). In addition, minors are perceived as being incapable of making routine intimate decisions or decisions related to their medical condition.
215. The Treatment of Mentally Ill Law, the relevant stipulations of the Youth (Care and Supervision) Law, and the Detection of the AIDS Virus in Minors Law, which were passed in the 1990s, express the legislator’s increasing tendency to recognize the right of a child to consent to medical treatment without the consent of his parent or guardian, as well as the need to weigh a minor’s ability to do so according to his evolving capacity. This trend is also reflected in the Ministry of Justice’s initiative to amend the Patients’ Rights Law regarding children. It is the Ministry’s intention that this law enable minors of a certain age to consent to routine medical care themselves; that the law require obtaining the consent of a minor, as well as of his parent or guardian, to medical treatment that carries risk; and that a relatively young minor be able to consent (with the help of a professional) to medical treatment that is in society’s interest or that is an intimate matter (e.g., birth control, psychological care, treatment of a drug problem).
216. To date, the legislators and the courts in Israel have refrained from determining the right of a minor to refuse to receive medical treatment.
217. Another trend is to allow for independent legal representation of minors. Two laws that were passed in recent years - the Family Courts Law and the stipulations of the Youth Law regarding admission to a psychiatric hospital - specifically order the appointment of a lawyer for a minor. This trend is getting stronger in light of current practice.
218. Minors are criminally liable beginning at age 12 - a rather young age, relative to the ages at which other rights and obligations are imposed. In this matter the law reflects the perspective that it is legitimate to place responsibility on minors, alongside the perception that the transition from childhood to adulthood is a gradual one, as may be seen in steps taken regarding children who bear criminal liability. Some punishments (the death penalty, mandatory life imprisonment) are not imposed upon minors at all, while others, such as detention and imprisonment, are imposed with restrictions concerning age, duration, and conditions. The law allows the use of a variety of punishments and special treatments for juvenile offenders.
219. Israeli legislation also includes laws that protect minors of various ages from harm or exploitation. Aside from defense against abuse and neglect and the obligation to report these, the law protects minors up to age 14 (and in certain cases up to age 18) from exploitation through sexual relations, and minors up to age 17 from putative marriage. These protections, which are paternalistic in nature, restrict the rights of minors to some extent, although the restrictions are not directly imposed on them but rather on those who engage in sexual relations with them or who marry them. Similarly, the law protects minors up to age 14 from testifying in certain criminal proceedings, and restricts the extraction of testimony from them regarding certain offenses.
220. Israeli law allows minors to work from the age of 14 (during school vacation or in special circumstances) or from the age of completion of compulsory education. The Youth Employment Law protects the right of a minor to attend school while working, and protects minors against harsh working conditions (such as night shifts) and long working hours (see Chapter X).
221. Most specific laws do not require examining the individual capabilities of a child, but rather define a certain age at which a right is granted or an obligation imposed. Only a few laws allow the court or professionals to grant a right or impose an obligation based on a child’s level of development, ability, or circumstances. Some laws - such as the Adoption of Children Law and the Detection of the AIDS Virus in Minors Law - cite a certain age as a “default”, while allowing deviation from it according to the circumstances of a specific case. The Guardianship and Legal Capacity Law recognizes the legal actions of minors as being “actions that a minor might perform”.
222. Israeli legislation concerning the capacity of children is not exceptionally consistent. For example, a minor has the right to make decisions regarding medical treatment and consultation only at age 18, while he has the right to be heard in the matter of psychiatric hospitalization heard from the age of 15. Youths age 17 cannot refuse medical treatment or sign a contract, but a child is criminally liable from the age of 12 and can be imprisoned from the age of 14. This inconsistency may be a consequence of the writing and passage of laws at different times, such that each law is influenced by the prevailing attitudes and beliefs about a child’s capacity, as well as prevailing social needs (e.g., the need to fight crime probably influenced determination of the age of criminal liability).
223. It is a task of the committee to examine fundamental principles of the child and the law, and their implementation in legislation (see Chapter III) to strive for harmony among the various laws concerning the rights and obligations of minors of different ages.
2. Non-discrimination (article 2)
3. The “best interests of the child” as primary guiding principle in all actions concerning children (article 3)
4. Respect for the views of the child (article 12)
227. Israeli law places responsibility for the life and development of the child on both parents. Parents and other guardians have the obligation (and the right) to meet their child’s needs, including the need for education and vocational training. Under the Penal Law, it is possible to punish parents (or legal guardians) who do not meet needs essential to the health and security of their children (see Chapter VI). The term “essential needs” was recently interpreted in a court ruling as including emotional and social needs, in keeping with the UN Convention.
228. Although responsibility for a child’s subsistence falls first and foremost on his family, the State is responsible for helping the family ensure a child’s existence and development by providing social services. Voluntary organizations also play an important role in ensuring the welfare of children. Social services and the policies that govern them are described in detail in the chapters of this report.
230. Israel has a particularly well-developed system of preventive health services for pregnant women and very young children. A national network of family health centers provides women and children with regular examinations and inoculations, as well as consultation, guidance and support, especially for weaker and at-risk populations. In addition, women who give birth in a hospital are given a grant by the National Insurance Institute (Israel’s social security administration), which is meant to cover the cost of hospitalization and basic equipment for the baby. Data indicate that the rate of mortality at childbirth, the infant mortality rate, and the rate of underweight births are very low in Israel and continue to decline (see Chapter VIII).
231. Some preventive services are provided in elementary and secondary schools, although not in sufficient quantity to meet all of the needs of children or promote their health. The few positions earmarked for preventive health staff in elementary schools allow for a limited number of routine examinations, but not for the recommended extent of classes or guidance in prevention and health promotion.
232. The services provided in secondary schools focus on preventing risk behaviors and promoting health, and include programs on drug and alcohol addiction, sex education, and prevention of infectious diseases such as AIDS. It has been claimed that the resources allocated for these services are insufficient (see Chapter VIII). Limited prevention and health promotion services are also provided to youth by the Ministry of Health and the sick funds.
233. Until recently, there were no systematic and comprehensive data on the health behaviors of children and youth. For the first time, a survey conducted in 1994 among children and youth in grades six through 11 revealed the status of Israeli youth, compared to youth in 23 other countries (Harel et al., 1997). As was commonly believed, Israeli youth are less apt to engage in some risk behaviors than are their peers in other countries. For example, the percentage of youth in Israel who drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes is lower than that of youth in other countries. Similarly, 90% of Israeli youth eat fruit and vegetables at least once a day - the highest percentage found among the countries that participated in the survey. At the same time, the survey highlighted a number of issues for concern. For example, Israeli youth (especially young women) are less apt to exercise than are their peers in other countries. In addition, a trend was identified of a decrease in the age at which children begin experimenting with cigarette smoking, drugs and alcohol. These findings may indicate an increase in these risk behaviors among youth, and hence a need to increase preventive and health promotion activities among them. The rate of youth violence was also found to be high in comparison with most countries in the study. A follow-up survey conduced in 1998 (as yet unpublished) showed a similar trend.
234. Another area that arouses concern for the welfare of children and youth is that of accidents, including accidents at and around home, on the road, at school or during social activities. About one-quarter of the deaths of children are caused by accidents. In recent years, efforts have been made to reduce car accidents through campaigns in the media and in schools (including the participation of children in safety patrols). Survey findings indicate a need to continue these efforts and to emphasize programs that promote safe behavior and encourage compliance with safety measures.
235. Environmental factors, such as water quality and pollution, also affect the health status of Israel’s children. In recent years, awareness has grown of the need to address these issues much more seriously.
237. Nevertheless, poverty among children is high and arousing increasing concern. During the mid-1970s, the percentage of poor children in Israel was about 10%; by 1995, it had reached 23.2%. However, data for 1999 which were just released indicate that poverty among children has reached a new peak (26%). The percentage of poor children is especially high among certain groups, including large families (with four or more children), single-parent families, Arab families and immigrant families from Ethiopia (see section B of this chapter and Chapter VIII).
238. Data on the implications of poverty for the welfare of children and youth are limited. What data do exist indicate that poor children are over-represented among those who suffer from neglect and abuse, those who do not achieve minimal levels of education, and those who become involved in marginal and risk behaviors such as crime and drug abuse.
The right to life, physical development and fulfillment of basic needs: Main achievements
241. Pre-compulsory kindergartens utilize a sliding-scale fee, such that families with very low income receive a significant discount. In some towns, pre-compulsory kindergartens are free or available at a minimal cost. There is a plan to expand this program to more towns and villages in the coming school year.
242. Elementary and secondary school attendance are almost universal. The percentage of Jewish students who attend school remains large through 12th grade (age 17), reaching about 96.5% among 14 to 17-year-olds. The percentage is also lower among immigrants. The percentage of Arabs who attend school is much lower, and is a major source of concern (see section B of this chapter). Dropout rates are also higher among some groups of new immigrants. The percentages of both Jewish and Arab students who attend school has increased in the past two decades, due to a policy of reducing the drop-out rate as much as possible.
243. Matriculation examinations are a central indicator of the success of the education system, as well as being a key to acceptance at institutions of higher education. Receipt of a full matriculation certificate by the largest possible number of students is a primary goal of the education system. Since the late 1980s, the percentage of students eligible for a matriculation certificate has been increasing. Nevertheless, nearly 60% of all 17-year-old students are still not eligible for a certificate. The rate of matriculation is much lower among Arab than among Jewish students and, within the Jewish population, it is particularly low among the Ethiopian Immigrants.
244. Beyond the problem of school dropouts, there is also a significant problem of youth who are in school but who are either not attending school regularly or fully participating in the educational process. A recent report (Cohen et al., 2000) has for the first time attempted to estimate the scope of this problem, which well exceeds the extent of youth who have actually dropped out of school. It is very important to address the need to provide meaningful educational and career tracks for those students who are not able to achieve full matriculation.
245. A variety of programs have been developed to address the needs of the youth who have dropped out as well as those of the weaker students within the schools. However, these programs do not reflect a uniform policy: there is little evidence of their effectiveness and their extent and dissemination within the school system do not match the extent of need.
Education, cognitive and social development and acquisition of skills: Main achievements
247. Informal education within the schools includes a fixed number of weekly hours with the homeroom teacher and student participation in volunteer activities (such as personal commitment and youth leadership programs; see Chapter IX). Despite the variety of programs available, most are not part of the compulsory curriculum, such that their implementation depends upon the priorities of a school’s principal. Currently, only a small percentage of students participate in these programs.
248. Outside of the education system, activities are offered by youth movements, community centers, and social clubs. These activities offer children and youth opportunities to develop and exercise the social and civic skills they will need to play a role in the community as adults. Currently, a significant percentage (25%) of youth participate in youth movements, and a similar percentage participate in community center programs. However, there is a decline in participation rates, as well as in funding, which is a major cause of concern for the future of these activities.
249. The emotional development of children and youth also receives attention. The school system has psychological and counseling services designed for children, youth, and parents who have problems adjusting to the education system or meeting its demands. However, there is evidence that these services are not offered on a large enough scale to provide adequate solutions.
250. Counseling and treatment for emotional difficulties are also available to children and youth through mental health clinics, which are operated by the sick funds and the Ministry of Health. Here, too, there is evidence that the scope of these services, their geographic dispersion, and their availability and accessibility to various populations do not meet the needs. The Ministry of Health is aware of the need to expand these services, as well as to intensify cooperation with schools and social services. To this end, a new model of treatment center for children and youth now operates in a small number of towns around the country. The Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs also sponsor treatment and emotional counseling for children and youth through local social services and youth promotion units. These services tend to focus on underprivileged children and youth at risk. However, these services are not universally available and problems of coordination among them create situations in which youth are not provided with the services they need.
252. However, there have been major difficulties in the implementation of these laws. Several recent studies, including the first national study of disabled children, raise a number of issues. First, there is evidence that the extent of coverage of rehabilitation and development services is not sufficient. For example, some groups - children with mild disabilities, learning disabilities, and emotional and behavioral problems - are not entitled to services under any law. In other cases, existing services are not adequate to meet needs or are not accessible, or else there is insufficient awareness of developmental problems. Children in the Arab, ultra-Orthodox Jewish, immigrant, and low-income populations are particularly vulnerable to these inadequacies (Naon et al., 2000).
253. Second, the system of services for disabled children is very complex, and uncoordinated. Disabled children and their parents have trouble using services due to the complexity of the system, as well as to a lack of up-to-date information on eligibility requirements and application procedures. Despite the efforts of various organizations to provide up-to-date information, this problem still plagues parents, service providers, and policymakers.
254. Problems also arise when determining eligibility for special education. Parents have been given special status on placement committees, and legislative efforts have been made to include them as full partners in the process of placement, treatment and rehabilitation. Nevertheless, there is considerable evidence that this process is characterized by a lack of information, by problems transmitting information, and by misunderstandings between parents and professionals. Organizations representing parents and professionals alike are aware that this problem may impede a child’s opportunity to receive appropriate education and treatment. In recent years, service providers have debated the creation of uniform definitions and policies, and studies have been conducted into how to better coordinate services.
255. To address the complexity of the service system, it is necessary to define more clearly the responsibility of each of the different legislative frameworks and service systems and to introduce mechanisms to coordinate care at the case level and to assure an adequate flow of information among professionals and to clients.
256. Still another issue is that of the willingness to “mainstream” disabled children in frameworks for the general child population. The Special Education Law 1988 obligates the integration of children with special needs into the “less restrictive frameworks”. However, in the implementation of the law, a clear priority has been given to financing services for children within special education frameworks who have a defined individual entitlement as opposed to children who are mainstreamed into regular classrooms. In recent years efforts have been made to integrate children with special needs into regular classrooms. However, these efforts have focused on specific groups (blind or visually impaired students, deaf or hearing-impaired students) rather than on the entire population of disabled children. The way in which resources are allocated under the Special Education Law - that is, primarily to special education frameworks and special education classes in regular frameworks - also makes it difficult to comprehensively integrate disabled children into regular frameworks. Mainstreaming is also hampered by lack of training of teachers and other personnel in the regular school system to address the needs of disabled children within the regular classroom and school. The lack of access for the handicapped to schools, public buildings and recreation centers also creates a burrier to mainstreaming. The committee to examine comprehensive legislation on the rights of the disabled has warned that lack of access is a one of the main reasons the disabled cannot realize their rights or participate actively in social and community life.
Children with disabilities: main achievements
258. This is a major challenge in a society that is as ethically diverse as is Israel. The challenge is complicated by the correlation between socio-demographic characteristics and ethnic origin which influence the ability to compete for social and economic status. For example, different population groups differ in family size, parents’ education, and the participation of women in the work force.
259. In addition to legislation and policy designed to prevent discrimination, steps are constantly being taken to improve the allocation of resources and development of services so as to reduce gaps and promote equality among population sub-groups. At the same time, Israel maintains a policy of helping each group preserve its cultural heritage (for example, by granting the right to choose the type of education one’s children will receive, by allocating resources to preserve cultural tradition). Nevertheless, significant gaps persist among groups in Israeli society. These are a result of both the patterns of allocation and use of services, and inherent differences among these groups.
261. In recent years, two groups of immigrants with radically different social and cultural characteristics have arrived in Israel: immigrants from the former Soviet Union, and immigrants from Ethiopia. Immigrant children and youth are facing major difficulties and in general experience higher rates of dropping out of school and of social deviance. The educational gap is particularly great for Ethiopian immigrants and for certain groups of immigrants from the southern parts of the Former Soviet Union.
262. In recent years, concern about the quality of the integration of immigrant children into the school system has led to a range of initiatives to promote their educational and social integration (see Chapter IX). No systematic, reliable data exist on the educational integration of children and youth from the former Soviet Union.
263. The absorption of Ethiopian immigrant children presents a particular challenge, given the dramatic cultural transition they must make and the socio-economic status, demographic composition, and level of education of their parents. Policies have been developed to promote equal opportunity for these children and to support their absorption into the school system.
265. This report identifies a number of areas in which the resources allocated to the Arab population are or were insufficient, and less than those allocated to the Jewish population. These include the range of and accessibility to preventive and primary health services, diagnostic services, rehabilitation and special education for disabled children, child allowances, education (especially for weaker populations), and support services (such as psychological counseling, programs to prevent dropping out), and training of educational manpower.
266. The recognition of this situation has led to a variety of measures to address it. The implementation of the National Health Insurance Law in 1995 provided the sick funds with incentives to serve weaker populations, including the Arab population; this led to accelerated development of primary health care services and expansion of preventive services for this population. Implementation of the Special Education Law has brought about an increase in the number of Arab students participating in special education programs, and to an increase in the scope of services for disabled Arab children. Benefits for Arab children in large families have been equalized and expanded.
267. In the field of education, initiatives have been taken to increase the resources allocated to Arab children and youth. These initiatives followed the adoption of several five-year plans for the Arab education system, including a significant increase in support services and special programs in schools, the development of training programs for kindergarten and school teachers, and the construction of classrooms and facilities. There have also been initiatives to revise the educational goals of the Israeli school system so as to adapt them to the Arab sector.
268. As in the overall population, there has been significant progress in a number of areas, such as a decline in the infant mortality rate, an increase in school attendance rates, and an increase in the percentage of students eligible for a matriculation certificate in the Arab sector. However, in many areas the gaps have not decreased; the most serious gaps remain in poverty rates and educational achievement.
269. Data also indicate gaps among sub-groups of the Arab population. In most cases, the situation of Christian Arabs and Druze is better than that of Moslem Arabs. The health, welfare and education of Bedouin children, particularly those living in unrecognized settlements, fall far below those of the general population of Arab children - a situation that demands special attention (see Chapters VIII and IX).
Gaps between Jews and Arabs: policy directions
Steps have been taken to reduce gaps in many areas:
1. The “best interests of the child” as a guiding principle
272. The concept of “the best interests of the child” is not defined by law (see Chapter II). Rather, it is being defined gradually through court rulings and the decisions of authorities and agencies that serve children, on a case-by-case basis and in light of the situation of each child and his family, and the child’s own wishes. This principle may thus have different meanings, depending on the values and cultural norms of the society (or social group) in which the child and his family live, and on the beliefs and expectations of those making decisions in the child’s interest.
273. Nevertheless, the principle of the “best interests of the child” serves as a measure of the extent to which a child is being cared for properly by his parents, and is used as the basis for deciding the course of the child’s life (e.g., custody and visitation rights). A variety of criteria are applied in determining the best interests of a child. For example, in custody proceedings, a judge may consult with and consider the reports of child protection officers, who are obligated to present a factual assessment of a child’s situation and to recommend the course of action they feel best serves the child’s best interests (see Chapter VII).
274. The principle of the best interests of the child is also reflected in the structure of the juvenile justice system. A minor who commits a crime is treated differently than is an adult. The agencies that handle minors accused of committing a crime have two major goals: to keep the minor from being labeled as a criminal, and to give him an opportunity for rehabilitation. These goals are clearly reflected in court rulings, most of which are made only after consultation with the specially-trained child welfare professionals who accompany juvenile suspects from indictment through treatment, and are geared toward rehabilitation.
275. Concern for the best interests of the child also requires safeguards against exploitation such as in the workplace, sexual abuse, and exposure to crime. The public is increasingly aware of the need to protect children and youth from exploitation. This has led to legislative and policy initiatives that protect minors.
277. The key agent responsible for protecting children from harm due to a lack of proper parental care is the social welfare system. Alongside it are the education and health systems, which potentially play a role in identifying cases in which there is a need to protect children. The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs has in recent years increased the resources allocated for treating children at risk and preventing domestic violence. As part of this initiative, innovative intervention methods are being introduced into the service system.
278. Services that aim to protect children lie along a continuum, which ranges from support and training for families that have difficulty ensuring the best interests of their children, to frameworks and mechanisms that provide these children with immediate, short-term protection to long-term, alternative care outside the home. Examination of these services raises a number of issues about how the principle of the best interests of the child and his protection are ensured.
279. In order to protect children, it is first necessary to identify those at risk. In Israel, a variety of mechanisms are used to identify children at risk. Legislation requires reporting cases in which there is a reasonable suspicion that a child is suffering from abuse or neglect. An infrastructure of services - family health centers, primary health care centers, preschools, and elementary and secondary schools - provides children with universal coverage. As a result, nearly all of Israel’s children come into contact with professionals who can identify risk situations at an early stage and who know how to make referrals when necessary. In addition, children who need help may contact the ombudsman of the National Council for the Child or other voluntary organization.
280. Data indicate that a relatively large percentage (about 17%) of Israeli children are known to some social service organization as being at risk. However, data also indicate that the extent of services provided does not match the scope or type of need of children at risk. About 10% of the children who are known to social welfare departments receive some community service, while an additional 4% have been placed outside their home by the Service for Children and Youth of the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs. A survey revealed that even children and families at high risk have serious unmet needs. The limited scope of the services available and their unequal geographic distribution impair the system’s ability to successfully help parents care for their children and to adequately protect children.
281. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child requires that the State signatories implement measures to protect children, taking into consideration the rights and duties of their parents or guardians. In this way, the Convention expresses the importance of helping parents fulfill their responsibilities toward their children.
282. This principle finds expression in some of the principles and operating structures of Israel’s child welfare system, which is part of the general social welfare system. It aim to provide a “one-stop” response to a range of needs and problems, which may arise in family life. In addition, some of the innovative models introduced in recent years reflect a family-focused, rather than an exclusively child-focused approach, and aim not only to provide for the child but to support the family as part of the rehabilitative process.
283. Nevertheless, the majority of services that are provided on a broad scale focus on the child, rather than on the family. This is illustrated by the emphasis on out-of-home care and by the small number of programs that return children to their families or maintain the relationship between children in out-of-home placements and their parents. In the community, as well, the most prevalent methods of intervention involve placement in a day-care center, or in family day care, or in after-school programs. These programs often do not address the needs of the parents or of the family as a whole.
284. Preserving the best interests of the child while maintaining the rights and responsibilities of parents is reflected in parental involvement in decisionmaking. Courts are obliged to hear parents in cases involving children. The involvement of both parents and children in choosing the appropriate intervention is stipulated in the guidelines of the decisionmaking committees for children at risk that exist in every local authority (Dolev et al., 2000). A recent study of these committees indicates that the extent to which these guidelines are followed is increasing: In two-thirds of the cases, a member of the family (child, parent or both) is present at the committee meetings. However, the study also indicates that the participation of parents and children is not always effective: They are not present during decisionmaking, and professionals lack the training and skills to meaningfully include them in choosing an appropriate intervention.
286. Since the late 1980s, efforts have been made to improve the level of care in and the surveillance of out-of-home frameworks, and to monitor the quality of care and its outcomes. For example, new, comprehensive surveillance criteria and methods have been introduced in residential facilities. An important feature of these new system is that they consider the opinions of resident children as part of the process of evaluating quality. At the same time, the Youth Protection Authority is developing a system of monitoring the outcomes of care of children in residences under its auspices.
287. Efforts are being made to improve foster care, as the qualifications of many foster families have also come under criticism. These include the development of a training program for foster families, which will stress the importance of the child’s relationship with his biological parents, and legislation defining the role and responsibilities of the foster family. Efforts are being made to provide more guidance and assistance to foster families and to more carefully screen these families in advance. An information system developed to monitor the care of children in foster families has been partially implemented.
288. Examination of the extent to which the best interests of the child is safeguarded in out-of-home frameworks raises several issues. Children in institutions may receive their education within schools located in the institution or may attend schools in the local community. In general, it has been found that these children have poor scholastic achievements and that the cooperation between the residential facility and the schools is inadequate. It seems that more resources need to be allocated to schools that operate within residential settings and to after-school enrichment programs. In addition, the responsibilities and contact between schools and residential settings must be clearly defined. Another challenge is assuring appropriate staff within the boarding school frameworks.
289. The availability of professional and para-professional personnel in out-of-home care is also an issue. A committee of experts has established criteria for hiring personnel for different roles and at different levels. However, these criteria are not always met and there are limited training opportunities, especially for child care staff.
290. The length of stay in an out-of-home framework, whether a boarding school or a foster family, is also at issue. Generally, a child’s stay in one of these frameworks is long; even though these are defined as being short-term solutions, rarely does a child return to his biological family.
291. Another issue concerning children in out-of-home frameworks is their relationship with their parents. The welfare system is aware of the importance of maintaining a relationship between parents and the children, and a special program has been designed for this purpose. A committee of experts that set standards for maintaining the relationship between boarding school students and their parents recommended that schools regularly report to parents on their child’s status, set times for telephone calls between parent and child, pre-arrange vacation dates, and host at least one event per year to which parents are invited. The Youth Protection Authority has also set guidelines and methods for including parents in the care of their child and reinforcing their relationship with their child.
292. Despite all of these efforts, findings from several studies indicate that policies that foster the relationship between natural parents and their children have not been uniformly or consistently implemented. In many cases, parents are not well informed about their child’s life at boarding school, and are not involved in their child’s care.
293. Children with serious mental health or behavior problems are often admitted to psychiatric hospitals, due to a lack of more suitable solutions, even though they don’t need the services provided by a psychiatric hospital. In order to provide more suitable solutions to the needs of such children, during the 1990s the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs established post-hospitalization units within existing boarding schools. These frameworks are designed to enable children with a serious emotional disturbance to make the transition back to the community after having been in a psychiatric hospital. They aim to be an alternative to psychiatric hospitals, and to prevent long and unnecessary hospitalization of children. In 1996, six post-hospitalization units were in operation.
295. First, there is evidence that despite the system’s orientation toward rehabilitation, most youth who have been detained or even convicted of committing an offense do not receive adequate rehabilitation and services. Youths who have been detained but whose cases have been closed are referred to the Youth Probation Service, but are rarely treated as they are not obligated to report to the Service. Youths who are being tried receive some intervention from a parole officer, although only 25% of them receive long-term rehabilitation intervention. Concern has been expressed that the conditions of incarceration for minors who have committed a serious offense do not allow for meaningful rehabilitative intervention. The lack of closed rehabilitation facilities (especially for Arabs and adolescent girls) also presents a serious problem.
296. The system has been criticized for protecting the youth offender at the expense of preserving his other rights, such as his right to legal representation. Legislative initiatives have been proposed to remedy this situation, for example by guaranteeing proper legal representation of minors, and amending current law to redress oversights.
297. Criticism has also been leveled against the actual implementation of the procedures designed to ensure the best interests and the rights of the child. According to officials in the criminal justice system and in children’s rights organizations, despite marked improvement in the protection of children’s rights in criminal proceedings, infringement of rights still exists. On the other hand, police officers have questioned the consequences of implementing some of the measures designed to protect children. Recent studies indicate that youth workers on the police force differ in the extent to which they implement such measures and in their attitudes toward children’s rights.
The best interests of the child: achievements
In child welfare proceedings
1. The right of a minor to be heard, and respect for a minor’s views in matters affecting him
299. In only a small number of situations is the consent of a minor (or a minor over a certain age) required before a decision is made or proceedings undertaken. In proceedings involving conversion, adoption, or admission to a psychiatric hospital, the consent of the minor (once he has reached an age established by law) is required before action can be taken. Courts are allowed to rule against the minor’s wishes (in the case of admission to a psychiatric hospital) or not to hear the minor’s opinion (in the case of adoption) if this is judged to be in the child’s best interests (see Chapters IV, VII and VIII).
300. Judges and administrators are required to hear and consider a minor’s opinion (though not to obtain his consent) when ruling or making a decision in matters of custody and intervention under the Youth (Care and Supervision) Law and the Youth (Trial, Punishment and Modes of Treatment) Law. However, there are no specific guidelines regarding how minors are to be heard and considered in each situation, nor is there systematic information about the extent to which their opinions are actually heard and taken into account. There is some evidence that it is indeed becoming more common to hear the opinions of minors in cases of custody and decisions related to the Youth Law. For example, according to the national child protection officer, the degree to which a minor’s opinion is heard and considered in cases pertaining to the Youth Law depends largely on the presiding judge. While some judges tend to hear minors, others rarely do. The Youth Protection Authority requires that youth participate in the periodic evaluation committee meetings that are held in boarding schools under its auspices. Specifically, students must be allowed to participate actively in at least part of the meeting, and the committee must hear their opinion about their status, treatment methods, and interventions. This requirement is indeed fulfilled in practice.
301. It is also noteworthy that there are procedures in which it is not even mandatory to hear or consider a minor’s opinion. For example, parents are allowed to change their child’s name without his agreement, and can consent to medical treatment for him (except in cases in which this right is reserved for the court). Neither children nor parents have a formal position on the municipal or local decision committees that decide on matters of community intervention and removal of a child from his home. Nevertheless, the regulations governing these committees recommend that children and parents participate in at least some of the committee’s discussions. Children also have no voice in decisions concerning the school they will attend, although parents do. Children who are candidates for special education do not participate in the placement committees that determine their eligibility, but the participation of their parents is mandatory. Such placement committees are allowed to invite a child to present his opinion, but there are no data on the extent to which they do so.
303. However, there is a growing tendency to allow the appointment of a representative for a minor without his parents’ consent in an increasing variety of cases. Two recent laws, which concern admission to a psychiatric hospital - the Family Courts Law and the 1995 amendment to the Youth Law - specifically mention appointing a representative for a minor. The increased representation of minors in criminal and civil proceedings, would seem to indicate that this practice is now “one that minors would perform”, and thus one that they are competent to perform under the Guardianship and Legal Capacity Law 1962. The establishment of a public defense attorney for minors is enabling many more minors to be represented in criminal proceedings. However, as noted, the general right to separate representation of minors is not set in law - although it may be inferred from case law.
304. Respect for the child’s opinion is also reflected in his involvement in his school and community. Increasingly, students are encouraged to get involved in their school. In fact, the Ministry of Education views this as a right of students and parents, and has defined the participation and responsibility of students in making and enforcing decisions concerning schools and education. For example, the Ministry has recommended that students be involved in determining curricula and in the choice of their course of study (i.e. choosing major and minor subjects). It also recommends allowing students to help establish bylaws and express their opinions and needs. It is not clear to what extent these recommendations are being followed. (This issue is addressed by the new Pupils’ Rights Law 2000 - see Chapters VI and IX.)
305. Community schools are another way of involving children and youth in their education: They allow - in fact require - student involvement in decisions that influence school policy and programs. Further, they encourage students to get involved in the community, and community residents to get involved in the school. These schools are run by committees comprising representatives of the school administration, teachers, parents, students, the local authority, and other community institutions (see Chapter IX).
306. The extent to which students feel that their opinions are being taken seriously at school and that their involvement is being encouraged is revealed by the results of an international comparative survey of Israel and 23 other countries (Harel et al., 1997). Some 40% of Israel’s students feel they are involved in setting school rules and that the rules are not too strict. Sixty percent of them feel that their teachers encourage them to express their opinion in class. Although these percentages are larger than in most of the other countries in the study, they nevertheless indicate that there is much room for improvement.
307. Both in and outside of school, a variety of programs encourage youth to become involved in their community. These programs give youth the opportunity to contribute to their community and peers, as well as to learn skills and gain experience as leaders (see Chapter IX). In recent years, the umbrella organization of community centers has developed a new approach to planning activities for youth, which is based on empowering the youths themselves in planning the programs and even independently managing them. The centers are also striving to involve the youth in programs that benefit the entire community.
308. Traditionally, youth movements were an important part of the experience of Israeli youth. They inculcated in these youth a positive attitude toward involvement in community and country. Today, youth groups still enable youth to plan their own activities, express their opinions, make decisions, and learn leadership skills. Youth movement members serve as counselors for children and as mentors for younger counselors. In recent years, the number of participants in youth movements has declined, and the reduction in financial support has become a cause for concern (see Chapter IX).
309. There is clearly a need for greater efforts to reverse the trend toward less participation in meaningful afterschool programs that can promote positive youth values and active citizenship.
311. The councils operate in schools, in local authorities, and at the regional and national levels. Youth on the regional and national councils represent their peers before the Ministry of Education and other government and public officials. The councils operate according to bylaws written by council members, their advisors and other educators. Regional councils sponsor the committees that write these bylaws, monitor their implementation, distribute information about the council and its activities, initiate social activities for students, and field requests and complaints from students who believe they have been treated unfairly in or outside of the school system.
312. The current trend is to strengthen student councils, increase their involvement in school life, and reinforce their role in determining the atmosphere and direction of a school. Student councils do not exist in every school, and municipal councils operate in less than half of all municipalities. Regional councils operate in every region of the Ministry of Education. Two years ago, regional student councils were particularly active promoting students’ rights, in the face of national sanctions applied by teachers in the schools as part of a labor dispute. They have also been increasingly involved in discussions concerning the structure of matriculation examinations (for more information on student and youth councils, see Chapter IX). The Pupils’ Rights Law 2000 stipulates that a school must encourage the establishment of a student council, and refrain from any action that would inhibit its establishment.
313. A recent law mandates that children be represented on committees on the status of children, which operate within local authorities. In addition, youth representatives are allowed to participate in Knesset committee debates (see Chapter III).
Respect for the views of the child: achievements
2. Poverty rates are very high, and this has significant consequences for children in many areas.
3. The education system has been successful in reducing drop-out rates and raising achievement levels. However, drop-out rates are still high, and there are significant rates of “hidden drop-outs” among Arabs and immigrants. The system needs to find ways to address the needs of these children and youth more comprehensively and systematically. In addition, 60% of Israel’s youth do not successfully pass matriculation examinations.
4. Examination of the services for disabled children reveals several shortcomings: large gaps between needs and adequate services, lack of coordination and information, and limited opportunities for mainstreaming.
5. Israeli law prohibits discrimination of any type. However, the allocation of resources to different population groups is not always consistent with this principle. Greater efforts are required in a broad range of areas to narrow the gaps between Jewish and Arab children. Efforts are being made to promote equality between new immigrants and veteran Israelis, and to protect the rights of the children of foreign workers.
6. A variety of means guarantee “the best interests of the child”. In recent years, the public has given greater attention to this issue.
7. In addition, there is a trend to adopt programs and approaches that focus on maintaining children in their families (and hence on assisting the families), and on involving parents in decisions concerning the fate of their children. However, there are many gaps in the services that aim to protect children and support their families: Only a small proportion of children, including children at severe risk, receive services; most services do not involve parents, nor do they attend to their needs. Extensively involving both parents and children in desicionmaking and planning intervention requires that professionals receive more training.
8. Many changes have been made in legislation and policies that protect children and youth suspected of committing a crime, as well as children who are victims of crime and exploitation. However, most children who have committed an offense do not receive comprehensive rehabilitative interaction, and many of them do not receive rehabilitation at all. In addition, it is still unclear to what extent children’s rights are adequately protected within the juvenile justice system.
9. There is no consistent policy requiring that the opinions of children be heard and considered in decisions that concern them. The notion that children have the right to be heard in decisions that affect them is increasingly reflected in policy and law. However, it is necessary to ensure consistent and uniform implementation of such policy by creating structured mechanisms, changing attitudes and training professionals.
1. Registration of children at birth and establishment of identity
317. Under section 9 of the Population Registry Law, when an infant is found abandoned, any person first obtaining possession of the infant will within ten days make notification to a registration officer of such particulars of registration of the infant as are known to him or her, and any such other information as he or she may have concerning the birth of the infant.
318. Under section 30 of the Population Registry Law, a person born in Israel and registered in the Population Registry may receive a birth certificate, as may other persons having a prima facie interest in the certificate.
319. Under section 11 of the Population Registry Law, residents of Israel who give birth to a child abroad are under a duty to notify the registration officer within thirty days of the birth and of the particulars of registration of the infant.
320. Section 13 of the Population Registry Law requires that residents of Israel who adopt a child abroad notify the registration officer within thirty days of the particulars of registration of the child. Under section 32 of the Population Registry Law, persons registering a marriage are permitted to ascertain whether the persons wishing to marry are adopted. This provision is necessary to prevent forbidden marriages, such as marriages between relatives.
321. Special arrangements found in the Surrogates (Ratification of Agreement and Status of the Newborn) Law 1996 address the registration of children born as a result of a surrogacy agreement, and guarantee the legal status of such children.
322. Children of foreign workers or tourists born in the State of Israel are granted a “birth notice” and not a “birth certificate”. This notice includes particulars of the parents and their passport number. The status of the children is determined according to their parents’ status.
323. Under section 19e of the Population Registry Law, when the registration officer is convinced that a certain particular of registration is missing or that a particular of registration about the child provided by the parents is in contradiction with another registration entry found in the Ministry of the Interior, the officer may, after providing the parties with a suitable opportunity to be heard, complete or correct the registration. However, correction or completion of a registration entry relating to nationality, religion or personal status will not be made without the consent of the person involved in the matter, or by a declaratory judgment of the Family Court.
324. Representatives of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel recently presented data to the Knesset Committee for the Advancement of the Status of the Child, according to which hundreds of children, mostly Bedouin, who are not born within the confines of a medical institution, have not been registered in the Register of Residents. Similarly, a child born in East Jerusalem, one of whose parents is not an Israeli national, encounters difficulty obtaining an identity card, which prevents his obtaining medical insurance and realizing his right to an education. At the conclusion of the debate, the Committee advised carrying out a survey on the extent of this phenomenon, which would enable children to be located and cared for.
326. Section 4 of the Names Law provides that a first name agreed upon by the parents will be given to a child shortly after birth. Parents are free to choose whatever name they wish and are not limited by a list of names or any other restriction. Where the parents are unable to reach agreement on a name, each parent will give the child a first name. A father who is not married to the mother of his child may not give a first name to his newborn child. This right is reserved solely for the mother.
327. Parents may change their child’s first name without the consent of the child or the approval of the court. This arrangement, which is likely to expose children to arbitrary name changes against their will, which are not in their best interest, is problematic. On the other hand, a guardian who is not a natural parent needs the approval of the court to change a child’s first name. Children may not change their first name until they reach the age of 18, unless they obtain the consent of the court.
328. The Names Law provides other arrangements with regard to surnames. According to section 5, children born to parents who are married to each other receive their parents’ surname upon birth. If the surnames of the parents differ, the child will receive the father’s surname, unless the parents have agreed between themselves that the name to be given will be the mother’s name or both the father’s and the mother’s surnames. If parents change their surname, they need the approval of the court for the respective change of surname of their minor child. A guardian who is not a natural parent also needs court approval for any change of surname of a child under his protection. Children may not change their surname before reaching the age of 18, unless they obtain the consent of the court.
329. Even if only one parent is requesting a change of name of a minor - for example, when the parents are divorced or separated - the court’s approval is necessary. In a case involving an application from a mother who changed her surname after divorcing the minor’s father, in which she requested changing the surname of the minor accordingly or adding her new surname to the minor’s current surname, the Family Court in Jerusalem held that the child’s wishes in this matter were of cardinal importance; it criticized the existing law, which fails to make it mandatory to hear the child’s view in such a case. After having heard the child, the court decided ex gratia to dismiss the application, as it discovered that the child was indifferent to the name change, and that such a change would harm the child’s well-being and his relationship with his father. It should be noted that the court relied on the spirit and the letter of the Convention (Family Court Case (Jerusalem) 19530/97 Anonymous Plaintiff v. Anonymous Defendant (12.4.98 not yet published)).
330. Children of parents who are unmarried at the time of birth will receive the mother’s surname. However, when both parents are in agreement, the children will receive the father’s surname or the surnames of both parents.
331. According to section 5 of the Adoption of Children Law 1981, an adopted minor receives his or her adoptive parents’ surname, but will not receive a new first name unless the court determines otherwise in the adoption order. A minor adopted by the spouse of his or her birth parent will also carry the name of his other birth parent, unless the adoptive parent requests otherwise, or at the order of the court.
332. According to sections 8 and 9 of the Names Law, a person who has no surname or no first name, or whose names are not known, and who is a minor, will have names chosen for him or her by his or her parents or guardians. Children who have not had their names chosen for them, as stated, may have their name fixed for them by the Minister of the Interior. The Minister is required to notify the parents and guardians of the name, who may choose another name for the child. These provisions are most probably designed to ensure the well-being of children, since not having a name is likely to harm this well-being.
333. Under section 4 of the Nationality Law 1952, children born anywhere in the world to a father who is an Israeli national or a mother who is an Israeli national are entitled to Israeli nationality.
(b) Nationality by birth and domicile in Israel
334. Under section 4a of the Nationality Law, persons born after the establishment of the State of Israel in a place which was part of the State of Israel on the date of their birth, and who have never possessed any nationality, will become Israeli nationals if they request this between their 18th and their 21st birthdays, and if they were residents of Israel for five consecutive years immediately preceding the date of their application for nationality. The Minister of the Interior is authorized not to approve such an application, if the applicant has been convicted of an offense of State security or has served at least five years in prison for any other offense. In such a case, the applicant is likely to remain without any nationality.
(c) Nationality by naturalization
335. Under the Nationality Law, if parents acquire nationality through naturalization, Israeli nationality is also granted to their minor children who are residents of Israel at that time. However, if only one parent becomes naturalized, and the other parent declares that he or she does not wish the children to become Israeli nationals - the children will not be granted Israeli nationality.
(d) Nationality at the discretion of the Minister of the Interior
336. Under the Nationality Law, the Minister of the Interior may grant Israeli nationality to minors who are residents of Israel following the application of both parents, or following the application of either the mother or the father, if one of them has sole custody of the child.
(e) Nationality by return
337. Immigrants (“olim ”) to Israel under the Law of Return 1950 are entitled to nationality. Children of parents who are entitled to nationality under the Law of Return are also granted nationality. According to a directive of the Ministry of the Interior, if one parent does not agree that his immigrant children be granted Israeli nationality, the children will be granted permanent resident status (under the Entry into Israel Law 1952). This status entitles the children to all of the benefits given to immigrant children who acquire Israeli nationality under the Law of Return.
(f) Nationality by adoption
338. Under section 4b of the Nationality Law, adopted minors are Israeli nationals by virtue of their adoption from the date of their adoption, if they are adopted in Israel and if their adoptive father or mother are Israeli nationals, or if they are adopted abroad by Israeli nationals.
342. Thus, for example, if there is doubt over the identity of a father, the court usually refers the defendant in the paternity suit for a DNA screening, which can confirm or refute paternity with a high degree of certainty. Although the court is not authorized to compel a defendant to be tested, his refusal to do so is persuasive evidence that he is indeed the father (see Civil Appeal Sharon v. Levi , P.D. 35(1) 579). In a landmark case, the court came to the aid of a Moslem minor girl, whom shari’a denied the right to paternity proceedings, as her mother was not married to the person alleged to be her father. The Supreme Court ruled that in addition to the paternity, that is a matter of personal status, and that is governed by religious law, there is another paternity, which may be termed “civil paternity”, and which the court will examine by disregarding religious law. In this case, the court was assisted by article 7 of the Convention, which addresses the right of a child to know his parents (Civil Appeal 3077/90 Anonymous Plaintiff v. Anonymous Defendant, P.D. 49(2) 578).
343. However, there are cases in which the court prohibits testing that would reveal the truth regarding the identity of a child’s father. These are cases in which a husband alleges that he is not the father of the child to whom his wife has given birth. According to Jewish halacha , the consequences for the child of verifying such an allegation are liable to be severe, as the child could be declared a “bastard”, and as such would be prohibited from ever marrying a Jew. In cases in which disclosing the true identity of a child’s father is liable to cause the child harm, the Supreme Court has held that a paternity test ought not to be ordered (see Civil Appeal 1354/92 Attorney General v. Anonymous Defendant , P.D. 48(1) 748). For example, in one case, the Jerusalem Family Court refused to order a paternity test on the supposition that even casting doubt on the father’s paternity would severely harm the child.
344. Another case in which a different interest prevails over the right of a child to know the identity of his biological parents is that of fertilization by means of donated sperm or ova. In Israel, persons donating sperm or ova are guaranteed anonymity, and children born from such donations are not entitled to know the identity of their biological fathers or mothers. The anonymity guaranteed to donors promotes donation, and serves the parents who actually raise the offspring of the donation. However, the best interest of these children, who are prohibited from ever knowing the truth of their origin - including information that may have medical repercussions (for example, concerning genetic makeup) - is not served.
345. Adopted children may receive information about the identity of their parents after they have reached the age of 18. Adopted children must apply to a child protection officer to inspect the register in which information about their biological parents is recorded. If their application is rejected, they may petition the court, which will decide the matter after having obtained a report from the welfare officer.
346. Similarly, children born as a consequence of a surrogacy agreement may also apply to review the register in which the details of their birth are recorded.
348. Children whose right to be cared for by parents is not exercised due to a refusal on the part of the parents to care for them are likely to be awarded compensation for damage incurred due to neglect. Such was the ruling of the Supreme Court in a case, which was evidently groundbreaking on a world scale. In the case in question, a mother committed suicide when her children were very young, and their father cut off all ties with them because of an agreement he had made with his new wife. The children were raised in institutions and foster homes, and were emotionally handicapped by their father’s cruelty and abandonment. The court ruled that by neglecting his children, the father was in breach, inter alia, of his duty to his children as stipulated by the Guardianship and Legal Capacity Law 1962, and hence had committed the civil wrong of violating a statutory obligation.
Freedom of expression in the education system
350. It is the policy of the Ministry of Education, as expressed in the circulars of the director-general of the ministry, to encourage political education, social awareness, involvement in current events, and understanding of and involvement in State affairs. Schools allow the expression of the range of opinions and perspectives abroad in society, as long as these do not contravene the law. The point of this is not to encourage affiliation with any one political party, but to expose pupils to a diversity of ideas.
351. Schools allow those supporting and opposing a political position to express their opinion, regardless of whether the position is supported by the government or accepted by the majority of the public. Students are not required to renounce their beliefs or views, even if these are repugnant. As part of this policy, the ministry encourages meetings between pupils and persons engaged in public and social affairs. Such meetings, which schools take part in organizing, are held both in and outside the bounds of the school.
352. The Ministry of Education encourages students to become involved in publishing student newspapers, although supervises their content. For example, the Ministry of Education initiated an electronic magazine, “Itonnoar ”, which is written and produced by youth and broadcast on Teletext. The Ministry of Education has published bylaws, including a code of professional ethics, for the members of editorial boards of student newspapers.
355. Freedom of religion involves providing parents with the opportunity to educate their children in accordance with the religion to which they adhere, or to refrain from providing a religious education. In order to exercise this freedom, the law allows parents to select from among State schools, State religious schools, and private schools. (See section 10 of the Compulsory Education Law 1949.)
356. If parents are unable to reach agreement on the religious education of their children, the court will decide the issue by balancing the various pertinent interests. The Supreme Court’s approach is that the desire to educate children according to their religious identity is only one of many things that must be considered when deciding matters of custody. In one case the Supreme Court dismissed an application by a mother to transfer her children from the custody of her former husband into her custody, so that she could bring them to Sweden where they were born, and where they would receive an education commensurate with their Christian religion. The court ruled that the theoretical possibility of a crisis concerning their religious identity was insufficient grounds for removing them from the custody of their father, who cared for them devotedly (Civil Appeal 90/86 Martinson v. Buzo , P.D. 40(3) 503). In another case in which a mother wished to expose her children to the doctrine of a sect that she had joined after her marriage, while the father wished to educate them according to the tenets of the Jewish religion, then-Chief Justice Meir Shamgar determined that this was a conflict between mother’s right to freedom of religion, and the children’s right to freedom of religion, and that the perception of children’s rights as being separate led to the conclusion that the children’s right to be educated as Jews should prevail over the mother’s right to educate them according to another religion. In the words of Chief Justice Shamgar, “The mother’s right to freedom of religion is firmly established, and includes her right to give her children a religious education. However, her right bows to that of her children”. The other justices who heard this case had reservations about the primacy Chief Justice Shamgar gave to the rights of the child as a means of resolving disputes concerning children. Nevertheless, they reached the same conclusion regarding the case - albeit by relying on the more traditional doctrine of the best interests of the child (Civil Appeal 2266/93 Anonymous Plaintiff v. Anonymous Defendant , P.D. 49(1) 231). There is no law or case law determining the rights of a minor who whishes to become more religiously observant, or to leave a religiously observant lifestyle, without parental consent.
359. A problem deriving from a difference between the religious beliefs of children and the religious beliefs of their parents may arise when the children find themselves, by virtue of their parents’ choice, at an educational institution affiliated with a faith or belief system to which they do not adhere. In one case, the Supreme Court debated the refusal of a private Christian school to allow a female Moslem student to attend school wearing a veil. The court decided not to intervene in the school’s policy, as the school was a private one affiliated with a religious group, whose considerations were based on its particular nature and essence. Chief Justice Aharon Barak commented that were the school affiliated with the State system, it would have been appropriate to recognize the student’s right to wear the veil as her religion commands her, within the ambit of the freedom granted every student to express his religious beliefs through his mode of dress, since freedom of religion takes precedence over rules of uniformity. Another justice who heard the case, Eliezer Goldberg, did not rule on the implications of freedom of religion for State schools ((Petition to the) High Court of Justice 4298/93 Jabarin v. Minister of Education and Culture, P.D. 48(5) 199).
360. Religious Jewish males customarily cover their heads. According to a directive of the Ministry of Education, a Jewish student may not be prevented from covering his head, even if he attends a non-religious State school. Conversely, the bylaws of some non-religious State schools require students to cover their heads during certain classes (such as bible class). It could be claimed that this obliges students to perform a religious practice, and that as such it violates their right to freedom from religion.
362. However, in reality, the law makes it difficult for children to exercise this right. The Amutot (Non-profit Societies) Law 1980 restricts the right of children to belong to an association. (Under section 15 of this law, any adult is competent to be a member of an association.) Similarly, the Companies’ Law 1999 grants every individual the right to establish a company.
363. In reality, aspects of freedom of assembly, such as establishing a company, are liable to be proscribed for children by the Guardianship and Legal Capacity Law 1962, which limits their capacity to perform certain legal acts - even if the specific law governing an aspect of freedom of assembly itself imposes no restrictions. Under the Guardianship and Legal Capacity Law 1962, a minor performing a legal act generally requires the consent of his representative (parent or guardian). A minor’s representative has the authority to consent to any legal act performed by the minor, or to revoke the act within one month of the date on which the representative was notified of it. This does not hold for “legal actions performed by a minor, which minors his age would perform”, even when the representative does not agree to them, unless they cause real harm to children. The answer to the question of what acts “would be performed by a minor” of a certain age varies with cultural and social developments. It is doubtful whether assembly for economic gain is at present an activity “that minors would perform”. Thus, those few children who would wish to engage in such activity, including those who are sufficiently mature to do so, are liable to be put at a disadvantage by the paternalistic arrangement in the law.
366. Similarly, youth movements that represent various political movements and sectors are active in Israel (see Chapter IX).
368. The Ministry also stipulates that parents of children who are absent from school due to participation in any gathering or demonstration will notify the school of the absence in writing. The school will handle this absence in conformity with the regulations applying to any absence from school.
370. Ministry of Education directives include numerous provisions to protect students’ dignity, including their privacy. For example, the directives prohibit anyone in the school from conducting a bodily search of a student to discover drug use, even if students and parents have given their consent to such searches. Another directive of the Ministry of Education prohibits an educational institution from punishing a student for any act or omission of his parents. This is directed at parents who fail to make all of the payments requested by the institution. A student may not be removed from a classroom or suspended from school as a result of non-payment, nor can his grades or certificates be withheld for non-payment. In fact, another directive stipulates that matters of payment will be settled directly with parents, without involving students. A student’s dignity will not be violated due to a dispute with his parents over payment.
372. In addition, the law includes arrangements concerning children specifically, which are reflected in a diversity of prohibitions against publicizing information or details that will reveal a child’s identity. A number of statutes prohibit the publication of information about minors.
373. Juvenile court proceedings are conducted in camera. Publication of a hearing conducted in camera, including a photograph of the courtroom, must be authorized by the court. Sections 70 and 70(c) of the Courts Law [Consolidated Version]1984 prohibit publication of any detail whatsoever that is liable to lead to the identification of minor defendants in a criminal trial. This provision applies to courts of all instances in which minors may be tried - not only juvenile court - and its application is not restricted to cases which are heard in camera.
374. The Youth (Care and Supervision) Law 1960 protects minors from the publication of details that are likely to impute an offense or moral corruption to them or their relatives, or to impute a minor’s having been the victim of an offense. Furthermore, section 13 of the Crime Register and Rehabilitation of Offenders Law 1981 restricts the transmission of information about offenses committed by minors who have not yet reached the age of 14, and misdemeanors (offenses punishable by a maximum of three years’ imprisonment) committed by minors who have not yet reached the age of 16. The section also restricts the transmission of information about a probation order, an order on recognizance to abstain from an offense, and an order to perform public works without a conviction. The law allows such information to be delivered to certain authorities only, which require it to fulfill their duties - inter alia, the courts, the attorney general, military prosecutors, and the Review Committee into the Criminal Record of Soldiers. Information on a criminal investigation against a minor that does not lead to an indictment will not remain with the police in a computerized form and will not be transferred to any external authority.
375. Prohibited publications generally constitute a criminal offense, as determined in the statute in which the prohibition is included. Section 14 of the Crime Register and Rehabilitation of Offenders Law 1981, which prescribes particularly short limitation periods for convictions of minors, prevents information about the conviction from being transmitted at the termination of the limitation period.
376. Family Court has addressed the conflict between a child’s right to privacy and the right of the public to know and freedom of the press. In one case, potential parents and a surrogate mother requested permission to reveal their identity and that of their children and to recount their experiences in a television film. Under section 19 of the Surrogates (Ratification of Agreement and Status of the Newborn) Law 1996, the name and identity of a surrogate mother, potential parents, and children may not be published without the consent of the court. In this case, the court refused to permit the publication, ruling that the right of the children to privacy prevailed over the freedom of expression of the parents and the makers of the film. In so ruling, the court relied on article 16 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which provides that “no child shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his or her privacy” (Family Court Case (Tel Aviv) 4570/98 Anonymous Plaintiff v. Attorney General (not yet published)).
377. According to the Protection of Genetic Information Law 1998, one of whose main objectives is to protect genetic information and the right of persons who have undergone genetic testing to privacy with regard thereto, genetic testing and DNA sampling on a minor age 16 and over requires the written consent of the minor and his representative, provided the minor has received and understood a complete explanation about the test; in the case of a younger minor, the written consent of his representative is required. The law restricts genetic sampling on a minor to cases in which the minor will not suffer any physical or emotional harm. Genetic testing of a minor for another person who is not a relative requires the approval of the court. Results of tests conducted on a minor may not be revealed to his representative unless they detect the existence of a disease or a disease-bearing gene, or unless reasonable medical opinion determines that intervention or treatment could prevent or delay the outbreak of disease in the minor or a relative, or could prevent a decline in the minor’s condition, or could provide essential assistance to another person without causing the minor any physical or emotional harm. It has been further proposed that in research that includes genetic testing of minors, a minor who has reached the age of 16 will be instructed not to reveal details of his identity. A person age 18 and over may revoke, restrict or alter the consent he gave to participating in such research when he was a minor.
379. According to Ministry of Education directives, parents must be notified of any request by a student, on his own initiative, to meet with the school psychologist, unless the student expressly states that he or she is not interested in such notification. If more than two meetings take place with the psychologist, the parents must be notified, even in defiance of the student’s wishes. (See Director-General’s Circular na/1 of September 2, 1990.) Special directives deal with psychological information about students and oblige schools to keep all matters relating to psychological reports confidential. Moreover, a student’s parents and the principal must be informed of any sensitive or serious case that reaches the psychologist or school counselor, such as a minor’s contravention of the law, engaging in sexual relations, or pregnancy. It is desirable, but not mandatory, that the information be transmitted with the student’s consent. (See Director-General’s Circular sn/9 of May 1, 1990.)
380. According to a general directive of the Ministry of Education, the right to receive information about a student is reserved for parents and guardians; anyone else desiring information about a student must obtain the consent of his parent or guardian. However, this general directive is apparently subject to another, specific directive that determines that information about students may be transmitted to the staff of the Ministry of Education, the local authority, or government agencies who require it in order to do their jobs. This directive does not require obtaining the consent of a student or his guardian to transmit the material.
381. The legality of these directives, which violate the constitutional right to privacy prescribed in the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty, and the provisions of the Protection of Privacy Law 1981, has not yet been reviewed by the courts. It seems possible that in certain circumstances these directives do not even conform with the obligation to preserve confidentiality that is imposed on psychologists by section 7 of the Psychologists’ Law 1977. In fact, the directives are liable to deter students from seeking counseling or treatment.
382. Nonetheless, Ministry of Education directives are strict about a student’s right to privacy in other contexts. For example, the Ministry of Education sponsors a “hotline” for students who wish to discuss a problem, clarify their rights, or receive assistance. Hotline staff are obligated to maintain confidentiality and privacy; they may transmit information about a caller only with the caller’s consent. (See Director-General’s Circular nz/1 of September, 1996.) According to another directive, teachers, principals or other staff conducting research on students must receive the consent of the students’ parents and the Ministry of Education. Publication of such research must not reveal the students’ identity. The recently ratified Pupils’ Rights Law 2000 stipulates that anyone who has received information about a student pursuant to the job he is legally charged to perform must keep this information secret and may not reveal it except for the express purpose of performing his job.
383. According to section 368d of the Penal Law 1977, the staff of an educational institution attended by minors - who as a consequence of their position have reasonable grounds to believe that an offense has been committed against a minor by a person responsible for him - are bound to report any such incident as soon as possible to a child protection officer or the police. Breach of such an obligation is a criminal offense (see Chapter X).
384. The employment of a private investigation company within school grounds is absolutely prohibited, regardless of whether the investigation concerns theft, drugs or other unusual phenomena involving students. (See Director-General’s Circular ng/10 of June 1, 1993.)
385. The Protection of Privacy Law 1981 determines special instructions regarding the information in computer data bases. The law provides, inter alia, that every person has the right to view information about himself and to amend any erroneous information; this information must be kept confidential. Much information about students is indeed found in data bases. Instructions to protect the privacy of an individual about whom information may be found in a computer data base also applies to students.
387. The law allows medical treatment, testing and other intervention for minors without the consent of their parents in only a limited number of cases, including AIDS/HIV testing (the Detection of the AIDS Virus in Minors Law 1999) ; performing an abortion on a female minor (section 316 of the Penal Law 1977); and mental health care or hospitalization (section 4B of the Treatment of Mentally Ill Law 1991).
388. The Supreme Court addressed the case of a youth age 17 and seven months who had become ill with cancer who refused medical treatment (chemotherapy) and was admitted to a closed psychiatric ward to forcibly receive treatment. The youth petitioned the Supreme Court with a request not to receive treatment against his will. However, the case was settled without a ruling, which would have set a precedent ((Petition to the) High Court of Justice 2098/91 Anonymous Plaintiff v. Child Protection Officer , Jerusalem Social Welfare Department, P.D. 48(3) 217).
389. Many directives have been issued in the education system that infringe upon a student’s privacy in the broad sense. For example, students are forbidden to smoke at school, yet teachers are permitted to smoke in a designated smoking corner. Most schools publish internal bylaws through director-general circulars, which include restrictions on students’ dress and physical appearance. A typical example is that given by the regulations of a secondary school in Haifa: On Fridays, when students are free to dress as they choose, they are “forbidden to come to school in shorts (shorter than Bermuda length), torn pants, undershirts, bikini tops, torn shirts, clogs or slippers”. The constitutionality and legality of some of the provisions in these directives and bylaws have yet to be reviewed by the courts.
391. The law includes a number of arrangements to protect children exposed to the mass media.
392. Educational Television was granted a license, without a tender, for television broadcasting of pedagogic-educational subjects only, at viewing times that are appropriate for its target population. Educational Television is allocated broadcasting time on both Channel One, operated by the Broadcast Authority, and on Channel Two, operated by the Second Television and Radio Authority. Under Second Television and Radio Authority (Television Program Broadcasting by Licensee) Regulations 1992, companies licensed to broadcast on Channel Two must give appropriate expression to the areas of interest of defined population groups, including children, and to devote 15% of their air time to children and youth at appropriate viewing hours. Licensees are required to clearly state in all program listings if viewing is restricted to adults; such programs may not be aired before 22:00. Licensees must ensure that programs designed for children under the age of seven are dubbed in Hebrew.
393. According to the Cinematography Ordinance 1927, the Film Censorship Board is authorized to determine the minimum viewing age for films likely to harm children, such as those with explicit depictions of violence or sex. At present, the Knesset is debating several bills to classify television programs by the age of the target audience and to censor the content of advertisements broadcast during child and family viewing times.
394. Existing legislation aims to protect minors from advertising that is liable to harm their health or welfare. The Consumer Protection (Advertising Aimed at Minors) Regulations 1991 set the following fundamental principles for advertisements directed at minors: An advertisement must be adapted for the level of knowledge, understanding and maturity of its target audience, and must transmit information precisely, truthfully and in clear language; it must accord with those social values generally accepted as being positive, in the knowledge that minors are likely to be influenced by it to do things that may adversely affect their health or welfare; it must not encourage minors to do dangerous things; it must refrain from exploiting the imagination and lack of experience typical of minors; it must not use violence, nudity or sexual innuendo. In addition, advertising is prohibited in schools, save with the permission of the director-general of the Ministry of Education or a person who has been authorized by him to give such permission. The law does not define what constitutes “advertising to minors” or how to protect minors from exposure to advertisements not directed at them; it seems that this law is not widely enforced. Public television channels control the advertisements broadcast during times when minors are likely to watch television.
“(1) A person who publishes the name of a minor or anything else likely to lead to a minor’s identification or hint at his identity, in a manner or under circumstances that may reveal the following:
“(a) that the minor has been brought before a court;
“(b) that a child protection officer acted or is acting in respect of the minor under this law;
“(c) that the minor attempted to commit suicide or committed suicide;
“(d) anything that is likely to impute a minor in an offense or moral corruption;
“(e) that the minor is a relative of a person to whom an offense or moral corruption is imputed;
“(f) that a sexual offense, violent offense, or abuse has been committed against the minor, or that the person responsible for the minor has committed an offense against him…;
“(g) any matter that might link a minor to an AIDS/HIV test;
“(h) any matter that might link a minor to a psychiatric test, treatment or hospitalization.
“(2) A person who publishes a nude picture of a minor age nine or over which may lead to the identification of the minor …
“(a) under this section, it is immaterial whether the minor or his representative consented to the publication.”
397. The instructions of the law are inadequate regarding the publication of nude photographs of children, as children of all ages are liable to suffer from the publication of a nude photograph of them, if not at the time of publication, then years afterward. Regarding the prohibition against publicizing the name of a child who has been involved in an offense, the need to protect the minor - even when he is the offender - from a stigma that may harm him in the future should prevail over the public interest in warning against notorious offenders.
398. Section 34 of the Adoption of Children Law 1981 prohibits disclosure or publication of the name of an adoptive parent or an adopted child, or of his or her parent, or of any other matter likely to lead to their identification, without the court’s consent; violation of this prohibition is a criminal offense.
A. Prohibition against torture and cruel treatment
401. In addition, Israeli law provides a range of protections for children against cruelty on the part of State authorities and on the part of those persons responsible for them (e.g., parents, teachers, caretakers, etc.).
402. Assault, abuse and neglect of a minor are defined as separate offenses, with maximum penalties that are more severe than those for parallel offenses perpetrated against adults (see section 7(1) of the Penal Law 1977). Israeli case law, particularly that of the Supreme Court, regards cases of abuse and assault of children with the gravest severity (see for example Criminal Appeal 1121/96 Anonymous Plaintiff v. State of Israel , P.D. 50(3) 353; Criminal Appeal 1351/92 State of Israel v. Anonymous Defendant , P.D. 46(3) 631). (Regarding the prohibition against the sale of brass knuckles and knives to minors with the aim of protecting bodily integrity, see section 185A of the Penal Law 1977, amended in 2000.)
404. In the past, the approach reflected in the Civil Wrongs Ordinance was also reflected in the case law concerning criminal offenses, which stated that parents are entitled to employ corporal punishment to educate their children.
405. This approach has changed. The Supreme Court has ruled, regarding teachers, that the old case law “no longer conforms to the social norms that we find acceptable” (Criminal Appeal 5224/97 State of Israel v. Sde Or (20.7.99 not yet published)). In another case, the Supreme Court held:
408. In another ruling, the Supreme Court determined that the criminal sanction against corporal punishment also applied to parents (Criminal Appeal 4596/98 Anonymous Plaintiff v. State of Israel , P.D. 54(1) 145). The ruling stated, inter alia:
415. In any case, section 25(b) of the Youth (Trial, Punishment and Modes of Treatment) Law 1971 absolutely prohibits imposing the death penalty on a person who was a minor on the date he perpetrated an offense.
(a) Family size
420. Family size is an important descriptive indicator of families. As discussed in Chapter VIII, large family size is a significant indicator of poverty and disadvantage in Israel, and large families have been the focus of components of social policy such as child allowances and income tax reductions.
421. As indicated in Table 8, in 1998 the average number of children in families with children was 2.3 - a decline from an average of 2.7 children per family in 1980. Large families with four or more children comprise 16.7% of all families, while approximately one-third of all families have only one child. The number of children in families varies greatly according to sub-population: Jewish families have an average of 2.2 children, while Arab families have an average of 2.9 children. Large families with four children or more comprise of 12.3% of Jewish families and 31.2% of Arab families. Among the Bedouin population of the town of Rahat, 61% of the families have four or more children. The ultra-orthodox Jewish population is also characterized by large families; however, there are no systematic national data on this group. Data on the city of Bnei Brak, most of whose residents are ultra-orthodox Jews, indicate that children comprise almost half (46.7%) of the city’s population.
422. New immigrant families that came to Israel in or after 1990 tend to be smaller: 56.5% of them have one child, compared to 34.5% of the general population, while only 4.9% of these families have four or more children, compared to 16.7% of those in the general population. The overall decrease in family size during the past two decades may be partly attributable to the wave of immigration in the early 1990s.
Number of children per family, by sub-population (average and percentage)
423. In Israel, most (92%) families with children are headed by two parents; the remainder (8%) are single-parent families. There are fewer single-parent families in the Arab population, and significantly more such families among the new immigrant population (19.8%). The proportion of children in single-parent families has increased in recent years, from 6.4% in 1994 to 7.4% in 1998. Most (67%) single parents are divorced, although 22% are widowed and 11% were never married.
* The figure in parenthesis is the percentage of households headed by a single parent.
** Estimate based on data from the city of Bnei-Brak.
*** Estimate based on data from several Arab towns and villages.
424. The Marriage Age Law 1950 prohibits the marriage of girls and boys under the age of 17. Until recently, boys under age 17 were not prohibited from being married, but the law was amended in 1998. The offense falls both on whoever marries a girl or boy, and on whoever conducts or helps conduct the marriage, including parents who marry off their children. Under the law, the maximum sentence for this offense is two years’ imprisonment.
425. Putative marriage is cause for dissolving a marriage, if suit is brought by the girl or boy before they reach the age of 19, or by their parents, guardians or a child protection officer before the girl or boy reaches the age of 18.
426. However, Family Court may permit a young girl to marry if she gave birth to a child or is pregnant by the boy or man she wishes to marry, and may permit a young boy to marry if the girl or woman he wishes to marry is pregnant by him or has given birth to his child. The court may permit a young girl or boy to marry if they have reached the age of 16 and the court believes that circumstances justify the marriage. The parent or guardian of a young boy or girl, or the person wishing to marry them, may petition the court to permit such a marriage. Common reasons for allowing such marriages, apart from pregnancy or birth as specified by law, include the consent of the girl and her parents, the common practice of an ethnic group, preparations for marriage, the age difference between the couple, the couple’s financial situation, and family support. The court makes its decision based on the good of the girl ; of course, the court also weighs the couple’s wishes. Thus far there have been no requests to permit a boy’s early marriage, but it may be assumed that the rules would be similar to those applied to girls.
427. As demonstrated in Table 10, marriages of minors under age 17 are rare in Israel. The highest incidence of minor marriages is among Arab girls age 17. In 1996, 14.6% of the Arab girls that age were wed. In comparison, only 1% of the Jewish girls in the same cohort married that year. Minor marriages are far less common among men, both Jews and Arabs (0.05% and 0.15% of the men age 17, respectively). As shown in Table 10, the proportion of marriage among minors has declined steadily among men and among Jewish women during the past two decades. Although the overall decrease in minor marriages among Moslem girls has been less pronounced, there has been a significant decrease in marriages among girls age 16 or less - from 1.96% in the late 1970s to 0.07% in 1996.
Percentage of minors (age 16-17 or less) marrying, by gender and religion
428. It should be remembered that marriage to a girl age 17 or less is illegal (unless special permission is granted) under the Marriage Age Law 1950 (see Chapter IV). This being the case, in 1995, few girls in this age group (58 girls, 25 of them Jewish) were registered as being married. However there is evidence that in some sectors of Israeli society, such as among Moslems, and among Jewish immigrants from the southern republics of the former Soviet Union, some girls under the age of 17 are married privately, and not registered as being married until they reach the age of 17. Public health nurses have indicated that some of these girls become pregnant and register at family health centers as single mothers. However, there are no data on the extent of this phenomenon. The nurses interviewed estimated that it is not widespread.
429. Births to single minors are also rather uncommon in Israel. In 1998, 4,565 children were born to girls age 19 or younger - that is, 1.8 births per hundred girls ages 15-19. Most (80.1%) of the girls were married, and the majority of them (59.4%) were Moslem. These births comprised 1.9% of all births in Israel that year. Among girls in this age group, legal abortions were one and one-half times more common than births. As noted elsewhere in this report, girls may legally consent to an abortion without the consent of their parent or guardian. The low rate of births to minors may be related to this.
1. Parental guidance and responsibilities
430. The Guardianship and Legal Capacity Law 1962 stipulates that parents are the natural guardians of their minor children. Section 3 of the Women’s Equal Rights Law 1951 stresses that subordinate to the best interests of the child, both parents are equally responsible as the child’s guardians and that, in case of the death of one parent, the surviving parent remains the child’s natural guardian.
431. According to the Guardianship and Legal Capacity Law 1962, parents, as guardians, have the right and obligation to provide for their child’s needs, including education, schooling, and vocational training. The Supreme Court has ruled that the needs of the minor for which parents are responsible should not be interpreted narrowly, and that these needs include “not only the minor’s material needs but also other needs deriving from his age and position as a ward, such as the need to guard his safety” (Civil Appeal 587/73 Shauli v. Mizrahi , P.D. 30(1) 533, p. 539). Parents are required to protect, manage and develop their children’s financial assets. They must protect the best interests of their children as devoted parents would under the circumstances. Parental guardianship includes the authority to have custody of them, determine their place of residence, and represent them. The parents’ rights and obligations toward their children have been discussed by the Supreme Court in a string of rulings. For example, the Supreme Court has written:
“The law recognizes the parents’ right over their children: both the right itself, and its limitations. In recognizing this right and its limitations, the law embraces a natural phenomenon that is deeply imprinted on man and beast. Thus man: ‘As a father has compassion on his children so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him’ (Psalms 103, xiii). Or: ‘Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has born? Though she may forget, I will not forget.’ (Isaiah 49, xv) (note: the rule and its exception). And beast and fowl: ‘Like an eagle that stirs up its nest and hovers over its young, that spreads its wings to catch them and carries them on its pinions’ (Deuteronomy 32, xi). This is a creature’s survival instinct, and the court is obliged to adopt it” (Civil Appeal 3798/94 Anonymous Plaintiff v. Anonymous Defendant , P.D. 50(3) 133, p. 165).
“The right of the parents in education, teaching, and all aspects of guardianship is the right to fulfill their obligation as guardians of their children … thus and consequently, realizing this ‘right’ of parents is subjugated to the principle of the best interests of the child” (Special Court Martial 1/81 Nagar v. Nagar, P.D. 38(1) 365, p. 393).
433. According to section 18 of the Guardianship and Legal Capacity Law 1962, parents are required to make decisions based on mutual consent between them. A parent may only take action regarding his child without the other parent’ s consent if a matter is urgent and cannot be delayed. The Supreme Court has ruled that in the case of divorced parents, one of whom has custody of the children, that parent “has the discretion to make decisions that are either extraneous or inherent to the right of custody, without consulting the other parent… It is difficult to draw the line between topics that are subsidiary to custody, and those regarding which a decision must still be made by both parents, but it seems we may generalize and say we mean decisions of principle pertaining to the parent’s general right-obligation toward his child - that is, concern for the minor’s general and religious education, supervision of his property, care of his health. In these matters, parents must decide by mutual cooperation and consent” (see Civil Appeal 2266/93 Anonymous Plaintiff (Minor) v. Anonymous Defendant , P.D. 49(1) 221, p. 246). According to section 19 of the law, if parents cannot reach an agreement regarding their children, the court, or someone designated by the court, will rule on the matter, but only if the court is unable to get the parents to agree, and if it has found that such ruling is necessary.
434. As stipulated in section 20 of the law, parents are forbidden to perform several legal actions on behalf of their children without the court’s approval. These are financial actions of significance, such as selling a house, or actions that are liable to create a conflict of interests between parents and their minor children, such as legal actions between a minor and his parents or his parents’ relatives, with the exception of accepting gifts given to a minor. The Supreme Court ruled that section 20 “should not be interpreted too narrowly, but rather in a way that will achieve its aim of affording effective supervision of a range of issues that may have considerable implications for the minor’s assets” (see Civil Appeal 112/79 Sharf v. Avar , P.D. 34(3) 178, p. 194; see also Civil Appeal 1763/88 Pilovsky v. Balas , P.D. 45(4) 521, p. 527)
435. A parent’s failure to provide for his child’s needs may constitute a criminal offense. Section 323 of the Penal Law 1977 states:
437. According to a ruling by the Supreme Court, a parent’s failure to care for his child, including withholding mental and emotional support, may also constitute a tortious wrong, the commission of which may entitle the child to compensation (Civil Appeal 2034/98 Amin v. Amin (4.10.99 not yet published)). Most of the criminal offenses involving a violation of parental obligations toward children are committed against children age 14 or less. This differs from civil law, such as the Guardianship and Legal Capacity Law 1962, which applies to minors up to age 18.
438. A parent’s obligation to care for his child is also implied by the Adoption of Children Law 1981. Section 13 of this law states that a child may be adopted even without parental consent under certain circumstances, for example:
(5) The parent avoided, with no reasonable cause, maintaining all or most of his obligations toward the child, for six consecutive months.
(6) The child was kept outside the parent’s home for six months beginning before the child reached age six, and the parent refused, with no justification, to accept the child in his home.
(7) The parent is unable to care for the child properly because of his behavior or condition, and there is no chance that his behavior or condition will change in the foreseeable future, despite financial and care-oriented assistance offered by the welfare authorities.”
(b) Income support for families
440. Israeli labor law, along with a comprehensive system of cash entitlements and other benefits, provides support for mothers and families during pregnancy, at birth, and during post-natal care. A pregnant woman must notify her employer of her pregnancy by the fifth month. Thereafter, she may not be employed for more than six days a week, on the weekly day of rest, or at night, and she may not work overtime hours without her consent and a physician’s permission. A pregnant woman who has been working for the same employer or at the same workplace for at least six months may not be dismissed by her employer without special permission from the Minister of Labor and Social Affairs. An employer who dismisses a pregnant woman without ministerial permission is subject to criminal liability, and must reinstate the employee. If a pregnant employee is dismissed before she has informed her employer of her pregnancy, she is to be reinstated, but no sanctions are imposed against the employer.
441. Pregnant women are entitled to paid absences from work for routine medical examinations. A pregnant woman who receives medical confirmation of her inability to work for a specified period may take a paid leave from work with no effect on any seniority-related rights. Under a recent amendment to the National Insurance Law, women who are unable to work due to a high-risk pregnancy receive the equivalent of their salary from the National Insurance Institute, up to 70% of the average wage.
442. When a child is born, the cost of the mother’s hospitalization and delivery is paid by the National Insurance Institute. Women who give birth or adopt a child receive a grant equivalent to 20% of the average wage (or more in the case of a multiple birth) to help cover some of the initial cost of preparing the home for the baby. This maternity grant is paid to all women residents or wives of residents of Israel, even if they gave birth in a hospital outside of Israel, and to women working in Israel or wives of men working in Israel, provided they gave birth in a hospital in Israel. A similar grant is given to adoptive parents. At present, the maternity grant is equivalent to roughly US $300. In the case of a birth of triplets or more, the family receives an expanded benefit of between 25% and 35% of the average market wage for 20 months following the birth.
443. According to the Employment of Women Law 1954, mothers are entitled to a three-month maternity leave paid by the National Insurance Institute. If the mother agrees, the father may take half of the maternity leave; in such a case, he will receive the maternity benefit in her stead, provided both parents are eligible under the law. At the end of the paid maternity leave, the mother is legally entitled to take an additional, unpaid leave of absence for up to nine months (dependent on how long she was employed prior to giving birth), with full security against termination of employment. Fathers whose wives worked for at least six months prior to giving birth may take the unpaid leave of absence instead of their spouse. This right also applies to fathers who have sole custody of the infant or whose wives are incapacitated, as well as to adoptive fathers. During the first four months following maternity leave, mothers who work in a full-time position may work one hour less per day with no decrease in salary. Adoptive mothers enjoy the same rights and benefits as biological mothers with respect to maternity leave. Other laws enable parents to devote themselves to caring for their children without suffering undue economic loss. For example, the Severance Pay Law 1963 entitles a woman employee who quits her job to care for a child to receive severance pay during the first nine months following childbirth or the adoption of a child under the age of 13. A male employee who quits his job to care for a child is also entitled to severance pay during the same nine-month period, provided the mother has not done the same (e.g., if she is self-employed and has not stopped working to care for the child), or provided the child is in the father’s sole custody because of the mother’s disability or illness. In addition, under the Equal Em ployment Opportunities Law 1988, male employees are entitled to day care services, shortened work days, maternity absences due to a child’s illness, child care expenditures covered by employers, and any other benefit offered to female employees, provided the child is in the sole custody of the father or the mother has not taken advantage of these benefits.
444. The Sick Day Payment (Absence from Work due to Child’s Illness) Law 1993 grants parents six paid absences a year for a child’s illness, or 30 days a year (which may correspond to regular vacation time) in case of a child’ s terminal illness. Many work places grant additional privileges, such as shorter work days for mothers or employers’ participation in day care expenses.
445. All families residing in Israel receive a monthly child allowance from the National Insurance Institute. This allowance is paid regardless of income, based on the number of children up to age 18 in the family. In addition, many of the National Insurance Institute’s income maintenance and income support programs take into account the number of children in a family when calculating the level of benefits. Until recently, the National Insurance Institute followed a policy of offsetting children’s allowances against parents’ income tax debts. This policy had a disproportionate effect on poorer families, and hence on their children. After intensive lobbying by non-government organizations concerned with children’s rights, the National Insurance Institute agreed to refrain from offsetting child allowances against tax debts; a private bill to amend National Insurance Regulations has passed the first step toward ratification in the Knesset (for more information on social security benefits, see Chapter VIII).
(c) Guidance in the care and education of children
(i) Family health centers
446. Guidance regarding all aspects of child care is offered to parents at over one thousand family health centers (“well-baby clinics”). The centers provide preventive health care for pregnant women and children from birth to age five, as well as health education and counseling. They are community based, and take an holistic approach to care. It is estimated that 95% of children under two and a half years of age visit them. A national survey conducted on a sample of centers revealed that programs that support and guide parents are offered in one-third of them, primarily in the Jewish sector. Most of these programs promote parenting skills, improve the relationship between mother and child, and foster child development. About half of the programs promote children’s health.
(ii) Community centers
447. Another widespread service is the network of 183 community centers, which offer cultural, educational and recreational programs for people of all ages. Community centers offer five types of service which are of help to families:
2. Enrichment and guidance programs, such as play facilities, for parents and young children. In such programs, professional staff play with the children and their parents, and counsel the parents on child development and interaction with their children.
3. Guidance workshops for parents, at which groups of parents meet regularly with professional facilitators to discuss parenting. The groups are usually organized for parents of children in a given age group (e.g., infants, school children, adolescents).
4. Social clubs for women offer support for women, including on issues of motherhood.
5. Innovative, multi-dimensional enrichment and guidance programs for immigrants and disadvantaged populations. These programs involve work with small groups of mothers and children, and combine several weekly activities: day care for pre-school children, mother-child playtime with a child development instructor, and guidance workshops for mothers (and sometimes fathers, as well). These programs aim to help immigrant families adjust to their new environment, for example by familiarizing them with preparation of the foods available in Israel and helping them understand their role in the school system.
448. Over the years, Israel has developed a variety of enrichment and support programs for young children and their families. However, analysis of these programs indicates that they are not cohesive, and do not meet the full range of needs: Despite the variety and quantity of programs, many of them are limited in size and operate locally, as the result of a private initiative. Many of these programs are brief in duration.
449. Furthermore, most of the programs for young children focus on one or two aspects of child development, rather than adopting a comprehensive approach. For example, programs supported by the Ministry of Education emphasize children’s cognitive development, and offer limited intervention with parents. Programs supported by the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs emphasize parenting skills and the parent-child relationship. Unfortunately, even those programs that are comprehensive are not available to all children and families. For example, a national survey of 250 programs offered in family health centers around the country revealed that only 10,000 of the 350,000 children newborn to age two benefited from these programs (Dolev and Yoel, unpublished). However, there are no systematic data on the extent of participation in all early childhood enrichment and support programs.
(d) Support for families from social services
(i) Social welfare departments
450. Additional support for parents is provided through social services. The Social Service Law 1959 requires local authorities to provide most social services; these are usually provided through a local social welfare department, which is divided into neighborhood branches that are staffed by professional social workers. Social welfare departments are supervised by the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs and follow its policies.
451. In 1996, social welfare departments served 280,179 children in 114,260 families - 14% of the children in Israel. Of them, 14% had immigrated to Israel with their families in or after 1990. One of the main tasks of a social welfare department is to assign families in need a “family worker” - that is, a social worker who assesses the family’s needs, counsels, helps with bureaucratic procedures, and mediates between the family and other services (e.g., schools). In some cases, a family is also assisted by a para-professional worker who visits it regularly and provides information, guidance and support. Families in need of greater support may be referred to a family counseling service; in 1995, 9,500 families (and 35,000 children) benefited from such services. In 1996, 19 centers for the prevention of family violence were in operation.
452. As income maintenance benefits are paid by the National Insurance Institute, social welfare departments offer only limited financial help directly to families. In 1995, 35,000 families received help purchasing basic appliances, 140,000 families received temporary assistance with rent and mortgage payments, and 4,500 families received help with household expenses.
453. Social welfare departments also help place children in day care centers, which are used predominantly by working mothers; in some cases, particularly if a family is unable to adequately care for a child, the social welfare department they will refer the child to a center and finance his attendance. In 1995, 12,455 children were placed in day care centers or family day care by a social welfare department.
454. After-school frameworks provide older children with supervision, hot meals, recreation, informal education, and some therapeutic services. In 1995, approximately 10,000 children were placed in such frameworks by social welfare departments - a dramatic increase from the 4,000 children who were placed in such frameworks in 1989. This increase was the result of cooperation between the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs and the Ministry of Education, which together aimed to increase the number of after-school frameworks. (For more information on the after-school frameworks provided by the Ministry of Education, see Chapter IX.)
455. In recent years, community-based programs have been developed for young families with multiple problems. These programs teach basic life skills (such as family budget management), parenting skills, and family interaction skills. Many of them target families in which the children are subjected to, or are at risk for, abuse and neglect. Some of these programs were developed in Israel, while others were “imported” from the United States and Europe and adapted to Israel’s service system and culture. Unlike “traditional” programs, which focused on the child, these community-based programs focus on the child in the context of his family, and enlist community resources in helping parents care for their children.
456. Following are some examples of these programs:
(b) Mutuality helps parents develop a reciprocal relationship with their infant.
(c) Video Home Training involves visits to homes by a social worker, who films everyday interaction with a video camera. Later, the family watches the video and discusses the behavior patterns that it reveals. An outcome study, which compared families who participated in the program with a control group, found marked improvement in almost all aspects of children’s well being and family communication in the participating families. In 1995, 400 families were served by this program.
(d) Together is a three-year program, which comprises group meetings at which mothers of children at risk work to improve their self-esteem and parenting skills. In 1995, the program was implemented at 33 sites, serving 630 mothers of 1,800 children.
(e) Multi-purpose Day Care Facilities are innovative, and combine child care with support for families at risk. In addition to offering day care for infants and afternoon care for pre-school children, the program welcomes parents to participate and offers formal and informal support and help improving parenting skills. In 1995, 700 children benefited from this service.
(f) Big Brother/Sister programs involve weekly or bi-weekly meetings between a child and a supportive adult or youth. Such programs are implemented by local non-government organizations and universities, as well as by the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs. In 1995, 800 children were assigned a big brother/sister by the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs; however it is estimated that a much larger number of children are assigned a big brother/sister by another agency. (For example, in 1994, some 7,000 children enjoyed this program in Haifa alone; Leitner, 1996a.)
Children receiving services through a social welfare department, 1995
458. A comparison of these figures to the number of children known to social welfare departments (280,179 in 1996) indicates that less than 10% of the children known to social welfare departments benefit from these programs. Obviously, not all of the children known to social welfare departments need these services, while other children and families are served in other ways (e.g., through counseling by a social worker, family counseling, out-of-home care). Conversely, not all families in need of support are known to social services. Thus, further information and analysis are required to determine the extent to which services meet the needs of children and families. Existing data do indicate extensive disparity between the needs of families and the coverage of support services. This conclusion is also supported by detailed analyses conducted in two cities (Haifa and Beer Sheva) as part of comprehensive community planning of services for children and youth at risk (Leitner, 1996a, 1996b). The analyses revealed that only one-third of the children surveyed received day care, afternoon care, or intensive counseling from a social worker. Thus, despite rapid development, the adequacy of coverage is still at issue.
459. Table 11 also reveals that out-of-home services (e.g., day care facilities and after-school frameworks) predominate as means of helping families raise their children. Programs that involve parents actively are still being developed and tested, and programs that support the child within his family are not widespread. Policymakers claim that the relatively slow pace of dissemination of holistic programs is due to both a lack of resources, and to a need to train and educate service providers.
460. There is no comprehensive, national information on the extent of service coverage for specific populations, such as new immigrants or Arabs. However, a recent study conducted by the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs in three Arab towns in the north of Israel (Korazim, Abu Asbah and Dolev, forthcoming) revealed that, despite the relative large percentage of children who live in poor families, and the relatively large percentage of large families, in the Arab population, relatively small percentages of Arab children are known to the social services, as indicated by limited social service coverage. Thus, even though a similar proportion of those children known to the social services receives support, the extent of support is more limited in the Arab than in the Jewish sector. In addition, the small size of Arab towns limits the extent to which innovative service models can be developed cost-effectively, and poses a challenge to making services accessible.
(ii) A Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs program for children at risk
461. In 1997, the government made children at risk a national priority. Consequently, the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs initiated a program that it hoped would have a significant effect on this population. “Children at risk” were defined broadly as being children whose circumstances might impair their ability to adjust to school, society and family life. The children covered by this definition include those subjected to abuse, neglect, and family violence, those living in impoverished or dangerous environments, and those with destructive or problematic behaviors, such as substance abuse and delinquency. The program combines legislative initiatives and service development.
462. Legislation: In 1998, a new law - “Entitlement to Services of Children at Risk” - was proposed. The law would entitle children defined as being “at risk” to services, and would define the State’s obligation to supply these services. The extent of entitlement to services would be determined according to the degree of risk. According to the proposed law, decision committees in local authorities would determine the degree of risk (i.e. the level of services to which a child is entitled), and prepare a care plan for the child and his family. The proposed law is innovative in its stressing the right of children at risk to services, rather than the State’s obligation to provide services. Furthermore, it would make the provision of services independent of local or national government budgets. At the same time, the proposed law would limit the period of entitlement to one year, thus ensuring frequent monitoring of a child’s situation and of the success of the intervention plan prepared for him. In fact, the proposed law would require hearing the child himself during discussion and preparation of the care plan, involving the child and his family in preparing the plan, and giving precedence to services that would enable the child to remain with his family (Proposed Law on the Right of Children at Risk to Receive Services 1998).
463. Service development: The proposed service would be based on family-focused intervention, cultural sensitivity, pooling of resources, and long-term treatment planning, focusing on the family’s strengths and considering its priorities. The plan is to establish “family and child centers” within local social welfare departments, which would be adapted to the cultural style of each community. Each center would house sub-units to handle screening, intake and evaluation, family and couples therapy, prevention and treatment of family violence, the child-parent relationship, single-parent families, parent training, children at risk, and emergencies.
464. In 1997, seven locations were chosen for a pilot of this program. In 1998, the program began to be implemented on a national level, using government resources allocated to towns based on a plan submitted to the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs. The government allocated NIS 75 million (about US $20 million) per year for two years (1998 and 1999) of national implementation. As yet, there are no systematic data on the program’s activities, the extent to which it has expanded service provision, or its outcomes.
(iii) Support for families in the education system
465. Support for families is also available from guidance counselors who are employed in middle, secondary and some elementary schools, who counsel students with scholastic, behavioral or emotional problems. Students are usually referred to a guidance counselor by a teacher, although they may also be referred by their parents or may seek out the counselor themselves. Students with severe problems are usually referred to psychological services either in or outside the education system. Educational psychologists assess children referred to them by schools and offer limited personal intervention. School psychologists advise teachers and parents how to address the children’s problems in the classroom. The extent of coverage provided by these services is also an issue. School psychologists and guidance counselors often have large caseloads that do not allow for intensive intervention. A 1995 survey of the educational psychology services in two cities indicated that only 25% of the cases referred to them received treatment, as opposed to assessment only, or counseling for the teachers involved.
(iv) Support for single-parent families
466. Several ministries provide additional support to single-parent families. The Single Parent Families Law 1992 entitles these families to specific benefits such as a reduced income taxes, an annual grant of 18% of the average salary for children ages six-11, and priority receiving a place at a public day care facility and/or a government housing loan. In 1995, the 38 centers for single-parent families operated by the government served about 7,500 families. These centers offer social activities, counseling and legal aid. A non-government organization of single-parent families, “Meihad”, which is part of the largest women’s organization in Israel (NA’AMAT) operates centers for single-parent families that both provide services and engage in lobbying.
(i) Determining custody of a child
467. Sections 14 and 15 of the Guardianship and Legal Capacity Law 1962 regard both parents as being a child’s natural guardians and grant them the right to determine where the child will reside. If the parents live apart, they may come to an agreement regarding who will have exclusive or partial guardianship of the child, who will have custody of the child, and what visitation rights the non-custodial parent will have. This agreement must by approved by a court to be legally binding (section 24). The law determines that if the parents cannot reach an agreement, or if the agreement is not implemented, the court will make custody and visitation arrangements based on what it believes to be the best interest of the child, with the exception that children under age six will be placed with their mother unless there is a reason to rule otherwise (section 25). The Supreme Court has decided that a court must rule in the matter of custody even when the parents, although legally separated and estranged, continue to live together and with their children in the same house, as the children should not be left with out a determination of who is responsible for their needs - basically a matter of custody. Prior to making such a decision, the court may ask a child protection officer to review the case, report factual findings and make recommendations (Welfare Law: Minors, Mentally Impaired Persons, and Persons in Need of Protection 1995). Child protection officers may approach a Family Court on their own initiative, with the approval of the attorney general (section 3 of the Family Courts Law 1995). Children may also petition Family Court, either themselves or through a close friend, concerning “any matter in which the child’s right may be substantially undermined”. Family Courts are assisted by support units composed of social workers, psychologists and psychiatrists who supply diagnostic, counseling and care services (section 5 of the Family Courts Law 1995; Family Court (Establishing Support Units) Decree 1996; Family Court (Support Units - Professional Skills and Supervision) Decree 1996). These units help parents arrive at a custody agreement and avoid confrontations that may be damaging to the children.
468. When parents fail to arrive at a custody agreement, custody may be determined either by a Family Court or a religious court. Determining the legal authority in this matter is complex, and has been the topic of many verdicts and learned sections. It has been determined that in some cases authority is granted to Family Court, although if both parents agree, the case may be heard by a religious court. In yet other cases, authority is granted to the court that was approached first.
469. The importance of the instance that determines custody lies in the effect that religious norms and mores may have on a religious court’s perception of the “best interests of the child”. The Supreme Court has overruled decisions by religious courts when these clearly do not serve the best interests of the children but rather are based solely on religious value judgments. Thus, for example, the Supreme Court overruled a decision by a rabbinic court to transfer custody from a mother to a father, even though the father could not raise them in his home and hence intended to send them to a religious institution. The rabbinic court had based its decision on its aversion to the mother’s cohabitation with a non-Jewish man.
470. As for the meaning of “the best interests of the child” with regard to custody, it is generally believed that living with one parent is preferable to residing at a boarding school. Continuity of custody is also considered compatible with a child’s best interests so that, as a rule, custody will not be transferred from one parent to the other. The parents’ financial situation and ability to provide stable living conditions are also taken into account. Usually, an effort is made to avoid separating siblings. Joint custody of separated parents is not common, and the courts usually award custody to one parent and visitation rights to the other. Rulings on custody and visitation rights usually take the children’s wishes into account, in consideration of their age, maturity, and judgment. However, it should be noted that there is no easy way for a child to petition the court independently, and that, in most cases, a child is not represented separately from his parents.
(ii) Maintaining contact with both parents
471. Section 24 of the Guardianship and Legal Capacity Law 1962 states that when parents do not live together, the custody agreement or court ruling in the matter must determine “the rights of the non-custodial parent to have contact with the child”. The courts tend to determine custody arrangements that ensure the child contact with the non-custodial parent.
472. Under certain circumstances, such as suspected abuse on the part of the non-custodial parent, or non-compliance of the custodial parent with the visitation rights of the other parent, the court will order supervised visitation. Social welfare departments operate “visiting centers” where such visits may take place with professional supervision and support.
473. The Supreme Court has ruled that maintaining contact with a child is not merely the right of the non-custodial parent, but may be considered his duty.
(b) Separation by the authorities
(i) Legal procedures for separating a child from his parents
474. As noted, the Guardianship and Legal Capacity Law 1962 grants a child’s parents custody and guardianship. However, the same law states that a court may deny or limit parents’ guardianship if they do not fulfill their obligations to their children within reason (sections 26-27). Under such circumstances, the court is authorized to appoint a guardian for the child in place of or in addition to his parents.
475. Removal of a child from his parent’s custody and restriction of parental custody are regulated in detail by the Youth (Care and Supervision) Law 1960, which supplements the Guardianship and Legal Capacity Law 1962. For example, removal of a child from his parent’s custody is possible if “the person responsible for the minor is unable to care for him or is neglectful of same” (section 2(2) of the Youth Law); if the minor “is under evil influence or is living in a place where offenses are regularly committed” (section 2 (5) of the Youth Law); or if the minor “was born addicted to drugs” (section 2 (7) of the Youth Law). In such cases it is possible to “remove the child from the custody of his parents or guardians and transfer him to the custody of the welfare services, which will decide where the child will reside or instruct that he be kept in an institution or secure facility (section 3(4) of the Youth Law). The court order is restricted to a period of three years, after which it may be renewed if necessary.
476. A court order to remove a child from the custody of his parents does not revoke the parents’ guardianship or their right to maintain contact with the child. The court may specify when and how often the parents may visit the child, with or without supervision, and whether the child may visit the parents’ home. Generally, visitation arrangements are not specified by the court decision.
477. The law provides for emergency situations: If a child protection officer is convinced that a child is in danger, she is authorized by section 11(a) of the Youth (Care and Supervision) Law 1960 to take any steps necessary to prevent harm to the child - including removing the child from his home and placing him in a safe place - as long as she does not hold the child for more than seven days without the consent of the court or of the child’s parent or guardian.
478. The court is also authorized to remove the offending parent, rather than removing the child from his home, under section 2 of the Prevention of Family Violence Law 1991, in conjunction with section 3A of the Youth Law.
(ii) Considering the wishes of the child and his parents
479. According to section 30 of the Guardianship and Legal Capacity Law 1962, the court may revoke or limit a parent’s role as guardian, or appoint an additional guardian alongside the parent, only after the parent has been given an opportunity to express his or her opinion of the matter. The law does not state the necessity of hearing the child’s opinion. On the other hand, the court may remove a child from the custody of his parents only after “ giving the minor, and his or her parent or guardian and the child protection officer a chance to express their opinion and suggestions” (section 8). According to section 9 of the law, however, “despite what is stated in section 8, the court may avoid summoning the child if it is convinced that he or she cannot understand the matter, or if appearing before the court will endanger the child”.
480. The emergency removal of a child from his parent’s custody for up to seven days, as well as the court’s authority to extend the removal, apparently do not require that the child be heard.
481. In practice, parents are usually present and heard by the courts, unless they refuse to appear. Children under the age of eight are usually not present in court, but children between the ages of eight and 11 are sometimes present, depending on the child protection officer’s assessment of the child’s capabilities and on the judge’s preference. While some judges insist on hearing the child in court, others do not. Children age 12 or older are usually present in court. A more systematic analysis of this issue is required as a basis for developing guidelines for uniform practice. It should be noted that although the courts are authorized to appoint an attorney or guardian ad litum to a child in these proceedings, this is extremely rare.
(iii) Local authority decision committees
482. Most of the children who reside in an out-of-home placement are not separated from their parents by court order under the Youth (Care and Supervision) Law 1960, but rather are removed from their home with the consent of their parents. Residential placements are decided upon by a “decision committee”, which sits in each local social welfare department. Decision committees are also involved in preparing the petitions and recommendations of child protection officers for the courts. In an emergency, when a court order is needed immediately and the committee cannot meet beforehand, the child protection officer will request a court order, and the decision committee will convene after the fact to approve it.
483. The government policy that guides decision committees is to avoid separating a child from his parents. The regulations of the decision committees state: “It is preferable for the child’s development [that he] grow up in his or her natural family. Therefore, every effort should be made to develop services in the community that will help the family raise the child. If the family situation endangers or might endanger the child’s physical or emotional well-being or damage his proper development, placing the child in an appropriate setting outside of the home must be considered as a temporary or, if necessary, a permanent solution”.
484. Broadly, decision committees are responsible not only for decisions about out-of-home placements, but for preparing treatment plans for children in need of intensive intervention. The options discussed may or may not involve separating a child from his parents. Decision committees are inter-service and multi-disciplinary, and comprise both regular participants and the professionals involved in the case being discussed. These committees are headed by a coordinator from the social welfare department, and always include the family’s case worker and the chief social worker. Other services in the community (e.g., the school, local psychological services) are represented on the committee by professionals who are familiar with the child and his family.
485. Decision committees are regarded by the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs as the primary mechanism for allocating services for the protection and welfare of children. Thus, emphasis is placed on their multi-organizational nature and on the participation of representatives of several community services. In addition, the committees are regarded as mechanisms for planning and developing community services. The Ministry also considers decision committees a mechanism for implementing its national plan and proposed legislation (see section (d) of this chapter, above).
486. Further, the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs regards decision committees as being an important tool in implementing the Children’s Rights Law. A comprehensive study conducted between 1998 and 1999, which was initiated by the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs in an effort to improve the work of the committees, found the following:
(iv) The participation of parents and children in decision committees
488. The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs recommends that a child and his parents participate in meetings of the decision committee. Indeed, findings from the study discussed above indicate a growing trend toward the participation of parents, children and relatives in the committees’ discussions. Based on a sample of 230 committee discussions, a parent, child, or relative were reported to have participated in about two-thirds of the discussions. One parent participated in 60% of the discussions, while children participated in 17% of the discussions (the percentage was higher among children ages 12-18 - 25%). However, committee chairmen reported some persistent problems: Children and their parents are not always invited to participate in committee meetings, and when they are invited, they don’t always attend. In such cases, it is rare that an additional meeting is scheduled to hear the parents and children. Furthermore, even when parents and children do attend a committee’s meetings, they do not participate in the entire meeting. While committee members listen to their views and opinions, they rarely involve them in decisionmaking. Observations of decision committees revealed that when parents participate in a discussion, their participation causes them and the professionals embarrassment and discomfort.
489. National administrators in the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs are aware of this state of affairs, and attribute it to lack of training and skills that would enable professionals to engage the parents and children in discussion. Several measures have been introduced in order to encourage the participation of parents and children in decision committees. For example, the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs is beginning to implement a pilot program of “ family group conferences”, which will replace decision committees. At these conferences, the decision regarding the appropriate intervention for the family - including removal of the child from his home if required - will be placed in the hands of the family, rather than being made solely by professionals. The aim of the pilot program is to examine whether the program can be implemented nationally, while training staff to place more discretion and responsibility in the hands of parents. The program will initially be implemented at three sites.
1. Entrance to Israel as a visitor
493. The Jerusalem Family Court has ruled that a parent who has custody of his children may move them to another country, and separate them from the other parent if the children so desire and if it is not clearly against their best interest.
495. Israel is a party to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspect of International Child Abduction and has passed the Hague Convention Law. Section 4 of this law determines that the attorney general is the authority for implementing the Convention, and he or she may appoint child protection officers, who will work under the supervision of the chief child protection officer and who will have the authority granted them by the Youth (Care and Supervision) Law 1960.
496. The attorney general is permitted by section 5 of the Hague Convention Law to transfer information to any person or organization, in Israel or abroad, if necessary to implementation of the Convention, as long as this information is not used for other purposes and remains confidential. A child protection officer also has permission to pass on needed information, as granted by the attorney general.
497. Family Court is entitled by law to issue an injunction preventing children who have been abducted, or anyone holding them, from leaving the country; an injunction preventing the children from leaving any place designated in the injunction; an order to the police to investigate the abduction, find the children, and help the child protection officer bring the child to court; and any injunction or order that will prevent injury to the children or infringement of the rights of anyone involved in the case, and that will ensure the return of the children or facilitate settling the dispute peacefully. Regarding such instances, regulation 95/9(5) of the Civil Law Procedures 1984 stipulates that “if a child is of an age and level of maturity that warrant taking his opinion into consideration, the court will not decide the case prior to hearing the child, unless the court sees the need to do so for special reasons, which should be recorded”.
498. In 1992, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs publicized a list of the states with which Israel has an agreement under articles 37 and 38 of the Hague Convention: Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belize, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Great Britain, Hungary, Ireland, Luxembourg, Mexico, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United States, and Yugoslavia.
499. Table 12 indicates the total number of cases of children handled by the central authority under the Hague Convention between 1993 and 1996. Of the 99 children abducted and brought to Israel during those years, 53 were from the United States and 10 from Canada. Of the 78 children abducted from Israel during those years, 32 children were taken to the United States, and 10 to Great Britain.
500. As another means of preventing the illicit transfer of children in cases of disagreement between parents, and in light of the stipulation that both parents are a child’s guardian, the Ministry of the Interior will issue a passport to a child only with consent of both of his parents. If one parent fears that the other may attempt to illicitly transfer the child, he or she may request an injunction against the child’s leaving the country.
* The figures refer to cases, as in some instances more than one child was involved.
** In 18 cases, the child was returned by consent.
*** States that were not parties to the Convention during this period.
E. Article 27 (4) of the Convention - Recovery of maintenance for the child
502. The Maintenance (Assurance of Payment) Law 1972 states that the National Insurance Institute will pay a child support allowance to any person whom the court has awarded child support, but who is not receiving these payments from the parent who owes them. The maximum child support allowance, set in State regulations, currently equals 39.7% of the average wage for a woman with one child, and 49.6% for a woman with two children (National Insurance Institute, 1997). In 1997, 19,509 women received child support allowances from the National Insurance Institute; nearly all of them (99.3%) were mothers with children. Seventy percent of the women had one or two children, close to 20% of them had three children, and 12% of them had four or more children.
1. The alternative care system in Israel
504. Children placed outside their home by social services. In 1998, a total of 8,980 children newborn to age 18 resided in an out-of-home placement arranged by the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs. About 5,000 of these children were under the age of 14, and the remainder were adolescents ages 15-18. Contrary to the situation in most western countries, the majority of these children, particularly the older ones, lived in residential settings; a considerably smaller number of them lived with foster families.
505. Reliance on foster families began in Israel in the 1920s, and was considered a more humane option for children without parents than were institutions. However, over time, the system of residential settings came to be seen as a more attractive option. Approximately one-third of the children under age 14 who are in out-of-home placements are in foster homes, while the remainder are in residential settings. As indicated by Table 13, in 1998, 1,523 children lived with foster families; 22% of them were under age six. The proportion of children in foster care, as opposed to residential settings, is greater only among children this age. Thirty percent of the children in foster care live with relatives from their extended family.
506. Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs regulations state that the goal of foster care is to provide a child with a temporary home, from which he may return to his parents’ home or, if that is impossible, be transferred to another, permanent home. Foster care is considered preferable for children under age six and for older children who do not have severe developmental problems. It is not recommended for children with severe emotional problems, or for children whose parents are unable to accept the emotional attachment between their children and a foster family and who may thus interfere with the foster relationship.
507. Placement is made as part of a comprehensive treatment plan for the child and his family of origin. It is recommended that a child be placed with a family that lives in the same geographic area as his family of origin, unless:
(b) The child needs special services not available in the area;
(c) The biological parents are substance abusers or criminal offenders;
(d) The children are being considered for adoption.
509. The regulations stress that the child’s natural parents remain the central figures in the child’s life. Under the Guardianship and Legal Capacity Law 1962, a child’s biological parents remain his natural guardians, unless the court has revoked this status. Parents are entitled to be involved in decisions about the child’s placement, such as the school system in which the child should be enrolled (religious or non-religious). The social welfare department is responsible for updating the parents about their children’s progress, encouraging them to maintain contact with their children by visiting them, and providing professional help that will rehabilitate the family and enable the child to return home.
(c) Issues in foster care
510. In recent years, there has been increasing awareness of the difficulties of enforcing these regulations in the foster care system. For example, although the regulations stress that foster care is meant to be temporary, children placed in foster families typically live with them for several years, and often until they are 18. In addition supervision of foster families proves difficult, and lack of systematic supervision creates barriers to enforcing the Ministry’s policy and regulations.
511. Currently, several changes are being proposed or introduced into the foster care system, so as to improve the care provided by foster families and increase the child’s possibility of returning to his biological parents. One of these involves employing foster family counselors in local social welfare departments, whose task would be to assist foster families and maintain contact with the professionals working with biological families. In addition, a clinical data base has been developed for children in foster care. This system helps follow the child and his biological family as a basis for planning and decisionmaking. Recently, a program has been developed to select, train, and assist new foster families. This program teaches 12 skills that have been found to help foster families. New models of foster care aimed at improving supervision and upgrading the quality of care are currently being piloted. These include family group homes, which serve a number of foster children in a family setting, and “community foster care clusters”, in which several foster families in the same community (which serve children from that community) receive counseling and supervision, and special services for the children in their care. Lastly, legislation is being initiated concerning foster care, as to date there are no laws that specifically define the rights and obligations of foster families, biological families, and children.
512. When describing the residential care system in Israel, it is useful to note that in Jewish and Israeli society, raising and educating children in residential institutions has not been seen as a drastic step that should be taken only when a child cannot remain at home. Education away from home at a yeshiva (Jewish religious school) was and is acceptable and even prestigious. Until very recently, children raised in the influential kibbutz movement lived and were educated communally; to this day, adolescents on kibbutzim usually live in group homes.
513. Following the Second World War, and with the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, boarding schools and kibbutzim were homes for young, parentless refugees. During the mass immigration of the 1950s, residential settings continued to enjoy prestige, and were considered ideal for helping newcomers - including children who arrived with their families - become integrated into Israeli society. In later decades the function of residential settings shifted; gradually, they came to serve children at risk and children whose needs could not be met at home.
514. Over time, professional attitudes also changed, and out-of-home placement came to be seen as less desirable than community-based solutions for children. However, this historical and social context explains why educating children and youth in residential settings is still seen by many, including parents and children, as legitimate, and not as an extreme step involving the separation of a child from his parents.
515. During the past decade, much concern has been expressed regarding the quality of care in residential facilities. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, several reports on poor living conditions and insufficient staff were published and received wide attention. At present, measures are being taken to improve this situation. In addition, government and non-government agencies have begun to cooperate on the development of community-based services that support families and enable children to be safe and cared for at home. Nevertheless, the overall number of children placed in out-of-home settings has not changed significantly in recent years.
(b) Residential settings and boarding schools
516. Table 14 presents data about the different types of residential setting and the number of children attending each type. The majority (431) of the settings, considered part of the “regular education” system, are for children with regular educational needs, although some of the children who reside in them attend special education frameworks. The “special education” settings include institutions for children with retardation, physical handicaps, hearing and sight problems, and emotional problems. Some (155) of the facilities are only for youths ages 14-18 and some (53) are only for children under age 14, but most (283) accommodate both children and youth. The average number of residents in an institution for young children is 59, while the average number of residents in an institution for youth or for children and youth is 147. Most residential facilities are operated by non-profit organizations, while a limited number of facilities are private. Most of the private facilities serve children with severe emotional problems. Only a few facilities for extremely troubled or delinquent youth are operated by the Youth Protection Authority (a government agency; see Chapter X).
Number of residential settings and residents, by residents’ age
and type of education 1996-1997*
* The numbers in parentheses refer to the total number of residents.
** No data are available on an additional 40 religious institutions.
*** Children under age 14 and youth up to age 18.
517. The residential care system, much like the education system, comprises Jewish and Arab institutions. Within the Jewish sector, the facilities are divided in the same way as in the education system: State, State religious, and independent religious frameworks.
4. Children under age 14 in residential settings
518. Residential settings for young children under age 14 are supervised by the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs. In recent years, the settings have been classified and budgeted according to the needs of their residents.
(b) Rehabilitative settings: Two-thirds of the children attend rehabilitative settings - that is, for children with mild difficulties.
(c) Educational settings: Only 8% of the children attend settings defined as being educational - that is, for children with a normal level of functioning.
521. A 1996 survey of 995 children under age 14 in residential settings showed that most (76%) of them were referred to residential care for more than one reason (Dolev and Barnea, 1996). The reasons for referral were grouped into four categories:
(b) Marital problems or violence between the parents (60%);
(c) Behavioral or emotional problems of the child (40%);
(d) Economic problems or anti-social functioning of the parents, such as crime, drug abuse or mental illness (38%) (Dolev and Barnea, 1996).
(c) Characteristics of children in residential settings
523. The study of nine residential settings also provided information about the characteristics of the residents (see Table 15). As may be expected when a child is removed from his home by social services, large proportions of them were neglected, a significant proportion of them were abused, and many of them had emotional, educational and behavioral problems.
Major problems of children under age 14 in residential settings (in %)
* The percentage of children to whom this applies. The percentage does not total 100%, as children may fit into several categories.
** In the clinical range, as measured by the Child Behavior Check List (Achenbach, 1990).
524. Children referred to a residential facility usually remain away from home for several years, often until they are 18. The children in this study were 12 years old on average, and had been in a residential setting for an average of two and a half years.
(d) Maintaining contact with parents
525. Several studies have examined the steps taken to maintain and improve the relationship between a child in a residential setting and his parents. In 1991, a study was conducted of how children in residential facilities maintain contact with their parents (Laufer, 1991). The study found that in most residential facilities, parental visits are not monitored, and there is usually no place where children can meet with their parents in private. A 1994 survey of 174 settings collected information about the setting as a whole through interviews with directors (Bendel and Katz, 1994). In a 1996 study, data were collected on the individual children in each of nine residential settings (Dolev and Barnea, 1996). The latter two studies revealed that the most common form of contact between parents and children was weekend and holiday visits to the family home - roughly once every three weeks. Although there is no uniform government policy regarding parental visits and activities, most residential settings hold joint activities for parents and children on their premises. The 1994 study revealed that 63%-69% of the settings allowed relatives to visit unannounced, 11%-25% had a regular visiting day, and 80% arranged transportation and accompanied the children home (Bendel and Katz, 1994).
526. At the nine settings studied in 1996, the parents of half of the children participated in joint activities at the facility, and the parents of two-thirds of the children visited them (Dolev and Barnea, 1996). Comparison of the data from the 1994 and 1996 studies reveals that while many of the settings have some sort of contact with the children’s parents, it is usually only with the parents of a small proportion of the children. Nearly all of the directors interviewed in the 1994 study reported that most or all of the parents received regular reports on their child’s progress from staff members; 42% of the directors reported that some of the parents receive counseling from the facility staff (Bendel and Katz, 1994). Conversely, the 1996 survey of individual children revealed that only 4% of the parents met regularly with a social worker at the setting, while an additional 14% met with a social worker approximately once a month. It also revealed that while the social workers generally supported the children’s contact with their families, those who worked directly with the children were ambivalent toward the parents, and often blamed them for the children’s misfortune (Dolev and Barnea, 1996). Moreover, the social workers often lacked the skills and training required to effectively relate to parents and other relatives; they felt burdened, and tended to place responsibility for working with the parents on the local social welfare department.
(e) Recent developments in residential care for children
527. During the late 1980s, public concern was expressed over the quality of care in residential facilities and the effect of separating children from their family and community. In recent years, the government has accelerated the development of several new residential care models. For example, community-based residential settings and group homes have been established in collaboration with non-government organizations. These facilities are located in the child’s own community and encourage his parents’ participation in his daily life and in decisions concerning him. In addition, family units are being developed, in which a married couple lives with and cares for a group of ten-12 children. Some of these units are part of larger residential settings, while others function as separate group homes in the community. Some residential facilities offer afternoon “external programs”, which the children attend during the day, returning to their family’s home at night.
529. Approximately two-thirds of the youth attending boarding schools are orthodox Jews - a far greater proportion than their proportion in the general population. Moreover, the popularity of boarding schools is on the rise in this sub-population. Another group amply represented at boarding schools is that of new immigrants from the former Soviet Union who arrived in Israel without their parents, and immigrants from Ethiopia who arrived in Israel in the late 1980s. It was hoped that boarding schools would enhance their adjustment to Israeli society. However, this viewpoint has come under criticism, particularly within the Ethiopian community, as many of the boarding schools do not offer advanced technological education, have a poor scholastic level, and generally enroll students come from disadvantaged backgrounds. In the wake of this criticism, increasing numbers of Ethiopian youngsters are living at home and attending schools in their community. In a study of Ethiopian immigrant youth, Lifshitz, Noam and Segal (1997) found that the reported level of satisfaction with school and the sense of belonging was similar for students at boarding schools and at schools in the community. They also found that young people living at a residential facility received more scholastic and financial help than did young people living in the community.
530. About one-quarter of the youth who attend boarding schools are neither orthodox Jews nor recent immigrants. For many of them, the residential setting offers a solution to social, family or scholastic problems. However, there is limited systematic data on the characteristics of these youth, or the services offered to them by the residential system, although voluntary organizations and policy makers report that there are not enough placements for youth with serious emotional problems.
532. The Penal Law 1977 also protects children from abuse by staff or other minors in residential facilities. Section 386A defines “a person responsible for the child” as being “whoever has the responsibility for the essential needs, health, education or well-being of the child” - a definition that includes the staff and administration of a residential setting.
533. Three agencies supervise residential facilities: The Service for Children and Youth of the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs supervises all residential facilities for children and youth. In practice, the Service emphasizes the supervision of facilities for children under age 14, the majority of whom were placed in them by the Service. The Youth Protection Authority of the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs is responsible for supervising correctional facilities (see Chapter X). At present, the Ministry of Education supervises residential facilities for youth, and all schools within residential facilities.
534. The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs is developing standards and practices to improve the quality of care in residential facilities, including an advanced surveillance system, which will enable inspectors to continually monitor each facility according to uniform standards.
(c) The actual quality of care in residential facilities
535. As a basis for developing the new surveillance system, a national survey was conducted in 1995 of all Youth Protection Authority facilities, and of a sample of residential facilities supervised by the Service for Children and Youth (Fleishman et al., 1999). The survey compared the directors’ perception of the quality of care in these facilities, with the level of care required by the regulations then applicable and compliant with the recommendations of an expert committee that was established to set standards of care in residential facilities. The survey revealed the following:
537. Children residing in rehabilitative facilities usually attend school in the community in which the facility is located. School and facility staff often report that the children have trouble adjusting to school, and that there is a lack of communication and coordination between the school and the facility.
538. Following this survey, both the Youth Protection Authority and the Service for Children and Youth developed a new surveillance system for residential facilities. Uniform standards were developed for all aspects of out-of-home care, and systematic measures were introduced to monitor the extent to which the residential facilities meet standards. Periodic supervision was instituted to identify and correct deficiencies. This system is based on a model first developed for inspecting and improving old age homes. It assumes that measuring and controlling quality of care must consider the children’s condition (outcomes of care) as well as intervention methods and physical resources available to the facility. When a facility is inspected, its staff are required to report on each child and “tracers” that indicate the presence of a problem (e.g., bedwetting, poor scholastic achievements, running away, suicide attempts). At the next inspection, a sample is made of children who showed one or more “tracers”, and the facility is checked to see whether the appropriate steps have been taken to help the child, based on the standards. In addition, facilities are inspected for general measures such as cleanliness, crowding, and staff-child ratio. Attention is also paid to the number of extracurricular activities and meetings with parents a facility allows. A sample of children is interviewed about the quality of care (e.g., the food, the attitude of the staff toward them). During subsequent inspections, the staff of the facility are presented with a report of areas that need improvement.
540. The regulations of the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs require that the decision committee review a child’s treatment plan, including out-of-home placement, every six months (Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, Regulation 8.9, 1995). Though systematic data are not available, it appears that this regulation is not implemented uniformly.
541. Usually, a child’s situation and progress is reviewed twice a year at the facility where he resides. In some cases the community family social worker who is responsible for the family attends the review. However, the plan and goals of intervention are not usually recorded, such that it is impossible to evaluate the extent to which they are followed. Furthermore, the length of stay in an out-of-home placement is often protracted; for most children, returning home is not an alternative. A study of decision committees found that when a child already resides in an out-of-home facility, committees usually recommended leaving him there.
542. In recent years, policy makers and service providers have begun to examine ways of shortening out-of-home stays when possible. Alongside efforts to improve the efficiency of decision committees, the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs and ASHALIM are establishing community residential facilities and foster clusters, with the ultimate aim of reducing the length of stay at residential institutions. Policy makers are also considering a transition to daytime residential frameworks and placing a child in a residential framework for only a few days a week while allowing him to spend the rest of the week at home. Greater attention is also being paid to this issue in the foster care system, through foster care coordinators who have recently begun working in local social welfare departments.
543. As noted, the Youth Protection Authority is responsible for managing correctional facilities for juvenile offenders and youths with severe behavior problems. The Authority’s regulations require review of out-of-home placement. The youth’s situation and progress is reviewed three months after admission and at least every six months thereafter. Review committees include the child protection officer or probation officer who referred the youth to the facility, the youth himself, and his parents. Intervention plans are generally recorded. The Youth Protection Authority is introducing a more systematic, efficient means of review, which will entail reformulating the regulations that guide the review process.
545. The council lobbies for the rights of children in residential care and raises funds to improve their quality of life. It also offers the children art activities, educational materials and holiday gifts, in partnership with the business sector. The council has lobbied for the establishment of a national authority for residential settings for children, official recognition and funding of the schools that operate in residential settings, and the passage of a law to prevent the psychiatric hospitalization of children who are not mentally ill. The council also acts as legal guardian for children whose parents are incapable of doing so, and operates an “ombudsman” for children in placement. The council has published several reports on the care of children in residential settings.
1. The Adoption of Children Law
547. The Adoption of Children Law states that a child can only be adopted through an adoption order granted by a court at the request of the adopting parent. Upon this request, a child protection officer must present a detailed report of the child’s condition to the court (section 287 of the Civil Law Proceedings 1984). An adoption order will only be granted by a court if it is in the child’s best interest (section 1 of the Adoption of Children Law 1981), and only after the child has lived with the adoptive parent(s) for at least six months (section 6).
(a) Circumstances of adoption
548. It is presumed that “the child’s best interest [lies in his being] with his natural parents. This presumption is not only based in reality, but also in values deriving from the natural parents’ basic rights” (Additional Civil Appeal 7015/94 Attorney General v. Anonymous Defendant , P.D. 50(1) 48, p. 67). However, in certain circumstances, this presumption is invalid, in which case the court may declare the child “available for adoption”, even without his parents’ consent.
549. According to section 13 of the Adoption of Children Law 1981, a court may declare a child available for adoption in the following circumstances: (1) The birth parents cannot be identified or located or cannot be asked about their wishes; (2) the parent opposing the adoption is the father, who never recognized the child as his own or, if he did recognize him, the child nevertheless does not live with him and he refuses, for no reasonable cause, to take the child into his home; (3) the parent has died, or been declared incompetent, or his or her guardianship of the child has been revoked; (4) the parent has deserted the child and failed to maintain contact with the child or to fulfill his or her parental obligations for at least six months; (5) the parent has avoided, for no good reason, fulfilling his or her basic obligations toward the child for six consecutive months; (6) the child was kept outside the parent’s home for six months prior to the child’s reaching six years of age, and the parent refused, with no justification, to take the child into his or her home; (7) the parent is unable to care for the child adequately because of his behavior or condition, and it is unlikely that his condition will change in such a way as to enable him or her to care for the child, despite economic or social assistance; (8) the biological parent’s refusal to agree to the adoption is based on an immoral reason or for an illegal purpose.
550. With regard to this section, the Supreme Court has noted:
(b) Consideration of the parents’ opinion
553. In the case of parental consent to adoption, the court must determine that the parents indeed wish to relinquish the child (section 8). Parental consent is invalid if given before the child was born, or under pressure. In special circumstances, the court may decide to allow the parents to change their decision, as long as an adoption order has not yet been issued (section 10).
554. The official who receives parental consent must explain its meaning to the parents (section 273 of the Civil Law Proceedings 1984). The court reviewing the adoption order may choose to appoint an attorney to represent the parent, at the State’s expense (section 24 of the Adoption of Children Law 1981).
(c) Consideration of the child’s opinion
555. Section 9 of the Adoption of Children Law states:
(2) All signs indicate that the child wishes to continue his relationship with the adoptive parents;
(3) The child’s best interest requires that he not be told of the adoption.”
557. The Supreme Court has ruled, in the case of a four-year-old child who expressed his wishes to psychologists when he was three years old, that “perceiving the child as a separate entity entails granting his right to have his wishes and wants considered to the extent possible” and that “this is not a baby, but a child with a will of his own which he is capable of expressing, indeed … [a child of three or four] does not have the same powers of consideration as an adult. Sometimes the wishes of a small boy do not reflect his best interests. However, a child is not an object to be handed from one person to another without consideration of his wishes. The child has an opinion, which needs to be taken into consideration”. In practice, the weight the court ascribes a child’s opinion increases with age.
(d) Competence of adoptive parents
558. The law specifies several conditions of competence to adopt: A child may only be adopted by a married couple, or by the spouse of the child’s parent, or by an unmarried relative in case of the death of the natural parents (section 3). The adopting parent must be at least 18 years older than the child, except in case of adoption by the parent’s spouse (section 4). The parent must be of the same religion as the child (section 5).
(e) Discretion in cases of adoption
559. Section 34 of the Adoption of Children Law 1981 prohibits the disclosure of information about the identity of the children, the birth parent, and the adoptive parents. Section 30(b) states that when the child reaches the age of 18, he may receive information about the adoption, based on the decision of the child protection officer (see also Chapter VI).
560. As a rule, the identity of the adoptive parents is not revealed to the natural parents. In exceptional cases, law and case law allow for an “open adoption”, whereby contact between the adopted children and their birth parents is maintained.
561. Adoptions in Israel are handled or supervised by the Service for the Child, which is part of the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs. This Service serves the following populations:
(2) Adults who wish to adopt, or who have adopted, children;
(3) Pregnant women who are considering giving up their child for adoption;
(4) Adult adoptees, who wish to learn about their past.
563. As noted above, Ministry of Labor regulations require welfare services to attempt to rehabilitate the family, so as to allow the child to stay with his family of origin. The decision to proceed with an adoption is made by the social welfare department decision committee. Regulations require that a representative of the adoption service attend any discussion concerning a child under age six, or any case in which adoption is being considered. If the committee decides that, despite attempts to help, the parents are incapable of raising their child and that it is in the child’s best interest to be adopted, the adoption service will ask the legal department of the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs to petition the court to declare the child available for adoption.
564. According to officials in the Service for the Child and in the Ministry of Labor’s legal department, the courts are strict in their demand that the State prove that the biological parents are incapable of raising the child, even if helped by the authorities. Court decisions are based on the testimony of the child’s parents, witnesses, social workers and other professionals who have worked with the family. The court also relies on expert (psychological or psychiatric) evaluations. Often, other options will be considered before freeing a child for adoption, such as granting guardianship to a member of the extended family, if such an arrangement is in the best interest of the child. Once a court has determined that a child is available for adoption, the birth parents can appeal to a higher court.
565. The 1994 Report of the State Comptroller expressed concern about the duration of legal proceedings, which was an average of between 12 and 18 months in 1989-1991. Sources in the adoption service stated several causes for lengthy legal proceedings: an overburdened court system, long intervals between hearings (despite regulations determining maximum intervals), and the insistence of courts on extensive examination of the evidence presented in favor of parents.
566. During legal proceedings, the child is usually under a court order that has deemed him a “minor in need” and placed him outside his home. The Service for the Child and several non-government organizations operate special group homes for children in transition. Other children stay with a foster family or at a residential setting. This period is used to prepare the child for separation from his family and adoption into a new family.
567. It is possible to place the child with parents who wish to adopt him if circumstances so require, even before the child has been declared available for adoption. Data from a survey of children over two years old who were adopted between 1985 and 1995 reveal that only 9% were placed with adoptive families at this stage (JDC-Brookdale Institute, unpublished data). It appears that this option is often successful when the child is an infant.
568. Once a child has been declared available for adoption, the regulations require that a suitable family be found within 12 months. When older children are involved, several meetings take place between the child and the prospective parents, over the course of one or two weeks, before he begins to live with them. During this time the child’s reaction is observed by professionals who know him; if he seems distressed by the interaction, a different family will be sought.
569. As a rule, the adoption order severs the legal ties between adopted children and their biological parents. The children are usually placed in a different geographic area from that of their birth parents, in order to prevent involvement. As noted, “open adoption” is rare, although consideration is being given to expanding this option.
570. Once a child has reached 18 years of age, the Service for the Child will contact his biological parents if he is interested in meeting them, and will and help set up a meeting.
Children adopted within Israel, 1995-1997 (in absolute numbers)
* Including two-five children with Down’s Syndrome per year.
572. As is apparent, about half of the children adopted within Israel are children over two years old. This population presents a challenge to the adoption service, as most couples prefer to adopt an infant (the waiting period for adopting an infant is five and a half years). Recently, a study initiated by the Service for the Child examined the outcomes of the adoption of older children and the services needed during different stages of the adoption process. Preliminary data from this study are available on 343 children over two years of age who were adopted between 1985 and 1995, as shown in Table 17.
Characteristics of older children adopted between 1985 and 1995
575. Adoption of children born in Israel by people in other countries is extremely rare. In 1996, five children were adopted outside of Israel, and in 1997, six children were adopted outside of Israel. These children were born to Moslem mothers. As Islamic law does not recognize adoption, and inter-religious adoption is prohibited within Israel, these children were placed with adoptive families outside of Israel. It is probable that in the future such children will be placed with Moslem families in Israel for long-term fostering and guardianship, which will be similar to adoption and in accordance with Islamic law.
577. A non-government agency, MALI - The Center for Counseling and Treatment for Adoptive Families, also offers professional help to adopted children and families at subsidized rates. In 1997 this service treated 344 individuals, through individual, family and group therapy. The service also offers workshops, training and consultation for professionals who work with adopted children.
1. Legislation regarding child abuse and neglect
(a) The Penal Law
579. The Penal Law 1977 prohibits acts of physical, emotional or sexual abuse directed at minors, and sets a maximum sentence of seven years for such offenses, and nine years if the perpetrator is the child’s guardian (sections 368B, 368C). As noted, the Penal Law also prohibits neglect of a child, and sets penalties for specific breaches of parental obligation, such as failing to provide a child under age 14 with food or clothing (section 362), or leaving a child under two years of age without supervision (section 361).
580. The Penal Law was amended in 1989, introducing a new chapter, 6.1: Harm to Minors and Dependents. The following principles underlie the stipulations in this chapter: First, crimes committed against a minor are more severe than those committed against an adult. Second, crimes are more severe when committed by a person responsible for a minor, than when they are committed by a person not responsible for the minor. Offenses committed by a relative are especially serious. Third, these prohibitions also apply to emotional abuse.
581. Section 351 of the Penal Law 1977 addresses sex offenses committed within the family, and sets more severe punishments than those set for offenses committed by someone who is not related to the victim. Thus for example, the penalty for rape or sodomy of a minor within one’s family is 20 years’ imprisonment, as opposed to 16 years’ imprisonment for the same crime committed against someone who is not a relative. Section 351b stipulates that having sexual relations with a relative who is between the ages of 14 and 21 is punishable by 16 years’ imprisonment.
582. Mandatory reporting of child abuse was added to the Penal Law in the 1989 amendment. Section 368D(a) requires an adult to report any case of child abuse or neglect to the police or to the Child Protection Authority. Failure to report such abuse is a criminal offense, which carries a three-month jail sentence. The law imposes a sentence of six months’ imprisonment on professionals who fail to report abuse of a minor, (e.g., physicians, nurses, educators, social workers, policemen, psychologists, criminologists, and school principals and staff; section 368D(b-c)). As noted, schools and other facilities for children are obligated by this law to report the incidence of severe injury, abuse, and sexual offenses against a minor performed by caretakers or non-caretakers, including another minors (368D(d)).
583. The amendment that made reporting mandatory was the result of extensive lobbying by voluntary and advocacy organizations, as well as of the disclosure of several cases of severe abuse and neglect, one of which culminated in the death of a three-year-old girl who had been continuously abused by her uncle, which shocked the public. Teachers, friends and neighbors had been aware of the continuous abuse, but had failed to report it to the Child Protection Authority. The setting of longer sentences for professionals who fail to report suspected abuse was meant to resolve the dilemma of professionals, such as physicians and therapists, who may hear of abuse and yet hesitate to report it lest they break their vow of maintaining confidentiality. Despite the passage of this law and the increase in the rate of reporting that has resulted, the sanctions set down in the law are not actually enforced, such that practically no professionals have been brought to trial for failure to report a suspicion of abuse or neglect.
584. The Penal Law was again amended in 1996 (Amendment 47), in response to the recognition that it frequently takes incest victims many years to file a complaint. The amendment extends the ten-year statute of limitations in cases of incest, so that the period of limitation begins tolling not from the date of the offense, but from the date on which the victim reaches the age of 18. Although the wording of this amendment leaves something to be desired, the Supreme Court has interpreted it broadly and in keeping with the spirit of the Convention (Criminal Appeal 2213/00 AnonymousPlaintiff v. State of Israel , P.D. 54(3) 180).
(b) Implementation of the Penal Law
585. As noted, the use of violence that may cause physical or emotional injury to children is forbidden by law and is considered criminal, whether committed by the child’s parents or by others. However, the Supreme Court recently ruled that there is a criminal injunction against the corporal punishment of a child, whether perpetrated by a parent or teacher. This ruling came in the wake of recent rulings in a similar vein made by some lower courts, including Family Courts. Thus, for example, a mother who had beaten her children on their rear end, slapped their faces, beaten one child with a vacuum cleaner and punched another in the face, breaking his tooth, was charged with abuse. The mother claimed that she had punished her children to educate them, and denied the charge of abuse. The judge ruled that although these acts were not considered “intentional cruelty”, they did constitute abuse, as they involved repeated and systematic acts of violence for the sake of discipline. The mother was convicted under sections 368(C) and 379 of the Penal Law. The ruling referred to the stipulations of the Convention, to the psychological damage caused by violence toward children, and to the evidence given by behavioral research that beating a child does not improve his behavior (Criminal Case (Tel Aviv-Jaffa) 511/95 State of Israel v. Anonymous Defendant (not yet published)).
586. It should be noted that a stipulation of the Civil Wrongs Ordinance [New Version], which offered protection of parents and teachers for corporal punishment perpetrated to the “reasonable degree necessary”, was recently abolished. (See also section 13.1 of Chapter VI.)
587. Another development is the recent increase in conviction rates and in the severity of sentences in cases of incest. One Supreme Court decision convicted a father of raping his daughter, overturning an earlier acquittal based on the father’s claim that the child “was not in a situation that prevented her from resisting me”. The conviction held that a child victim of incest is always presumed to be unable to object to the act. Review of court rulings also reveals that the amendments introduced in 1989, which stress the seriousness of sex crimes committed within the family, have had an effect. In recent years, courts have imposed heavy punishments of 12, 15 and 16 years for such offenses. However, criticism is still being voiced about cases in which the courts have been more lenient toward incest offenders.
(c) The Youth (Care and Supervision) Law 1960
588. Section 2 of the Youth (Care and Supervision) Law 1960 defines seven situations in which a child or youth may be declared by the court as being a “minor in need”:
591. As noted, the Youth Law was amended in 1995 as follows: “The court will not make a decision under this law... unless the minor, the person responsible for him and the child protection officer have been allowed to make their claims and offer suggestions” (section 8). Section 9 of the law states, however, that the court may avoid summoning the child if it is convinced that he cannot understand the matter or that appearing before the court will endanger him. In such a case, the court may admit as evidence the testimony of a child heard and recorded by a youth interrogator (section 9A). (See also Chapter X.)
(d) Young Children at Risk (Eligibility for Day Care) Law 2000
592. Under the Young Children at Risk (Eligibility for Day Care) Law 2000, a committee of the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs is authorized to determine that the healthy development of a young child (infant or toddler) is at real risk, and that therefore he should be placed in a day-care center, so as to preclude his being removed from his home. The law defines a young child as being at risk if he is abused, if his developmental needs are not being met, if one of his parents is not functioning properly, if he is one of triplets, quadruplets, etc., if his family is in crisis following immigration, or if he is developmentally delayed. The law, which is slated to go into effect in May 2001, stipulates that young children at risk will be eligible to attend a day-care center close to their place of residence. However, the law has left it to the Minister of Labor and Social Affairs to determine the amount of parents’ co-payments.
(e) The Prevention of Domestic Violence Law 1991
593. The Prevention of Domestic Violence Law 1991 is intended to protect people, including children, from a relative who endangers those living with him through physical, sexual or emotional abuse.
594. “Physical abuse” was defined by the Supreme Court, in connection with the criminal offense of abuse of a minor, as being the “direct or indirect use of force or physical means against the body of the victim in a manner and to an extent that may cause physical or emotional harm or both” . According to the court, abuse typically involves “cruelty, instilling in the victim considerable fear and terror, degrading or humiliating the victim, or severe risk of (physical and emotional) harm”.
595. In order to prevent such risk, the court may issue a protection/restraining order against the offender, which prohibits him from entering or even approaching the home for a period of up to one year, from harassing children or other relatives, and from carrying a weapon. The protection order may require the offender to undergo psychological treatment. Any relative who is aware of sexual or physical abuse that has been or may be perpetrated, may petition the court for a protection order. An amendment to the Penal Law (Amendment 56, Minimum Punishment for Violent Offenses against Women and Children), which was ratified by the Knesset in July 2000, sets punishment for an offense of severe violence committed against a relative at no less than one-third of the maximum punishment imposed for the offense. The amendment is in keeping with the legislator’s trend to favor minimum sentences, in order to obligate the courts to raise the baseline of punishment for offenses of this type.
(f) The Child Testimony Law 1955
596. The purpose of this law is to protect children under the age of 14 who have been involved in a sex crime (as victims, witnesses, or offenders), or who have been abused by the person responsible for them. The law enables a youth interrogator (usually a social worker) to question the child and then testify in court on his or her behalf, thereby protecting the child from traumatic situations which could arise in court (see Chapter X).
598. Children known to social welfare departments are a larger group. However, these children come from families that were referred to or sought help from their local social welfare department, and while they are all exposed to some level of risk, it is likely that not all of them should be defined as being “at risk”.
599. As indicated in Table 18, 14% of the children in Israel are known to local social welfare departments. Half of them (51%, or 7% of the total child population) are thought to be in a situation of direct risk, and under the care of a social welfare department due to violence directed at them or between their parents, deficient parenting, or behavioral, emotional, or adjustment problems. Another 25% of them (or 3.5% of the total population of children) live in families where there are risk situations, such as a problematic relationship between the parents or problems with the parents’ social functioning (i.e. drug addiction, criminal behavior). The remaining 26% of the children known to social welfare departments (an additional 3.4% of the total child population) live in families that are subject to environmental risk factors such as poverty, unemployment and single parenting.
Estimated children at risk known to social welfare departments and
children at risk identified by universal services (in %)
* Based on estimates.
600. Another basis for estimating the number of children at risk are surveys in which professionals identify these children from the pool of children who receive some sort of universal social service, such as those provided in a clinic, school, or preschool. For example, surveys conducted nationally at all family health centers, and at schools in two local authorities, revealed that 2.5% of children newborn to age six and 6% of children age seven-17 are “ at risk”, yet are not known to their local social welfare department. All of these children are in either a direct or a family risk situation. It is therefore estimated that 15% of Israel’s children - that is, 320,000 children - are in direct or family risk.
601. Table 19 presents the major characteristics of children and families at risk, gleaned from several studies. The Table reveals the following:
Characteristics of sub-groups of children at risk (in %)
3. Services for children subjected to abuse and neglect
603. The past decade has seen significant development of services for children at risk, in response to the increased number of children identified as suffering from abuse and neglect since reporting became mandatory in 1989. There are three types of service: Those that provide immediate protection, those that offer treatment specifically related to abuse and neglect, and those that provide general support. As general support services were described above (see section (d) of this chapter), the following sections will address the first two types of service.
(a) Child protection services
604. In Israel, child protection is conceived of and implemented by the social welfare system, reflecting a belief in social intervention, rather than legal action. This preference is expressed in both the legislation regarding child protection, and the organizational structure of the service system. Child protection officers, employed by social welfare departments, are legally responsible for implementing the stipulations of the Youth (Care and Supervision) Law 1960, which views legal intervention as a last resort, after all other means of helping parents adequately care for their children have failed.
605. Child protection services are provided under the Social Services Law 1958. The involvement with a family of a child protection officer does not entitle that family (children or parents) to specific services. Like other clients of the welfare system, these children and families are dependent on the priorities and allocation policy of the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, as well as that of their local authority, to a certain extent. A legislative initiative proposed by the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs as part of a national program for children at risk would entitle children and families at risk, including those subjected to abuse and neglect, to a basket of services based on their needs.
606. Child protection services are provided by child protection officers, who are supervised by regional child protection officers; both are in turn supervised by the chief child protection officer pursuant to the Youth Law in the Service for Children and Youth. Child protection officers are social workers in social welfare departments who have undergone specific training and have been appointed by the Minister of Labor and Social Affairs.
607. In most local authorities, child protection officers are part of neighborhood teams that also comprise family social workers, geriatric social workers, and the like. The child protection officers act as experts on children, and advise the other professionals on the team. Their role in relation to a child and his family varies according to the policy of the local authority and the specific case. A child protection officer may remain “behind the scene” as a consultant to the family social worker, may intervene during a crisis in the family, or may work in partnership with the family social worker. In some cases, the child protection officer will take responsibility for intervention and become the case manager for a child and his family, instead of the family social worker. Sometimes intervention is carried out under court order, though often it is not.
608. Upon receiving a report of a child in need, a child protection officer will investigate the case and gather information with the help of other social workers in the social welfare department. If there is reason to suspect that a criminal offense has been committed, the child protection officer must report this to the police. (Conversely, the police must also consult with a child protection officer.) However, if it is the child protection officer’s professional opinion that reporting the incident to the police would harm the child, he may petition a committee comprising representatives of the district attorney’s office, a senior police officer, and a senior child protection officer to refrain from reporting the incident. This procedure is rarely used: In 1996, 59 such requests were made to these committees, and only 29 of them were granted.
609. Once the investigation is complete, intervention is begun either with or without a court order.
610. Intervention under court order: Under the Youth (Care and Supervision) Law 1960, a court order may be issued for a “minor in need” if the child protection officer is convinced that the minor is in immediate danger, or is in need of urgent medical treatment. The child protection officer may take whatever steps he deems necessary to help the child, without the consent of the child’s guardian, for no longer than one week without court approval. The minor must not undergo a psychiatric examination unless so ordered by a regional psychiatrist.
611. Once the court has pronounced the child a “minor in need”, the child protection officer may ask that the court take the steps required to protect the child. These usually include one of the following:
(2) Issuing a custody order, which removes the child from his parents’ home and places him in the care of the child protection officer until an appropriate out-of-home framework can be found. The court may issue an interim order that is valid for 30 days and may be extended for up to three months, or may hand down a final ruling, which is valid for up to three years.
613. Children and families may exit the child protection system in several ways, including the gradual transfer of responsibility for the case from the child protection officer to a family social worker. Many (about 25%) of the cases reported to child protection officers never formally enter the child protection system, but rather are immediately referred to a family social worker. In other cases, a family social worker resumes care or takes responsibility for the case after the crisis situation has been handled.
614. As a result, identifying and describing the population of children and families in the care of the child protection system is very difficult. At any point in time there are children in the care of child protection officers under court order, or not under court order; cases in which child protection officers act as consultants or partners; and cases being investigated by child protection officers. Despite the relatively flexible definition of “being in the child protection system”, it is agreed that these children are those who are subject to the most extreme risks, and who require the most intensive intervention. However, as these children and families are entitled to the same services as those available and accessible to all children and families, the services and support available to children who suffer from abuse and neglect should be seen within the context of general support services (see section (d) above).
(b) Children in the care of child protection officers
615. The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs collects data regarding children referred and reported to child protection officers through a central information system. However, the Ministry claims that the information being reported to the system is incomplete, and covers only between half and one-third of all children referred or reported to the officers. Data gathered by the Ministry in 1997 show that 11,000 children were referred or reported to child protection officers in that year. Approximately two-thirds of these children were already under the care of a social welfare department at the time of referral. According to the Ministry, about 50% of the reported cases were verified. Often, the child and his family remain in the care of a social welfare department, even if the report is not verified, or is only verified in part.
616. Additional information about children referred to child protection officers is available from a survey of the National Council for the Child. According to this survey, in 1996, 18,605 children were referred to child protection officers. This figure is higher than that reported by the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs for 1996 (10,592), which is thought to represent about two-thirds of the children who were referred to child protection officers in that year. This discrepancy appears because some of the social welfare departments submitted data to the National Council for the Child, but not to the Ministry of Labor. Information about the types of abuse experienced by the children referred to child protection officers is presented in Table 20; the information is culled from reported cases, which may or may not have been substantiated.
Children referred or reported to a child protection officer in 1996,
by primary type of maltreatment
617. Since reporting became mandatory in 1989, the number of reports of child abuse or neglect has risen significantly - from approximately 4,000 in 1989 to over 18,000 in 1997. Even though, as noted, few individuals have been tried for failure to report a case of suspected abuse, the law seems to have had an impact on the public. The data indicate a strong correlation between the social welfare and the child protection systems: 63% of the children reported to child protection officers were already known to the social welfare system at the time of referral, and one-third of them were referred by a social worker. The small proportion of children who reported themselves, or who were reported by friends or neighbors, indicates that the legislation has influenced professionals to a greater extent than it has the general public.
618. It is also noteworthy that the percentage of Arab children (13%) among those reported to child protection officers is much lower than their proportion in the general population of children (25%), despite there being no evidence that abuse and neglect are any less common among the Arab than among the Jewish population. This may reflect reluctance to report cases of abuse and neglect within the Arab population.
619. A 1992-1993 survey of children in the care of child protection officers in four cities (Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa and Beer Sheva) provides a deeper understanding of who remains in the care of a child protection officer, after the initial investigation. All of the children were living at home at the time of the survey.
Characteristics of children in the care of child protection officers
in four cities, 1992-1993
* More than one characteristic may apply.
620. The data reveal that children who remain in the care of a child protection officer come from families in which any of a number of problems may impair social functioning and parenting. Approximately one-third of the children live in single-parent families, compared to 6% in the general population, and almost half of them live in families with four or more children, compared to 17% in the general population. Thirty-seven percent of the children live in families in which the head of the household is unemployed, and almost half of them have at least one parent who suffers from a severe problem that may impair his social functioning (substance abuse and diagnosed mental illness are the most prevalent).
621. In contrast to the popular perception, most of the children in the care of a child protection officer are not subjected to physical or sexual abuse, either suspected or substantiated; emotional abuse is more common (i.e. humiliation, severe punishment, punishment that is unrelated to the child’s behavior). The percentage of cases of physical abuse that are substantiated increases with the child’s age.
622. Most of the children in the care of a child protection officer are subjected to various forms of neglect. Almost half of them are physically neglected - that is, at least one of their basic daily needs is not being met on a regular basis. An even larger proportion of children lack adequate supervision, are often left alone, and do not have a daily routine. The majority of the children suffer from emotional neglect, and close to half of them suffer from educational neglect - that is, their parents do not make sure they attend school regularly and do their homework.
Children in the care of a child protection officer, by type of abuse and neglect*
and by age group (in %)
624. The proportion of children whose families receive services geared for the entire family is even smaller. The most common of such services, provided to 59% of the families, is counseling with a social worker or child protection officer. However, these counseling sessions tend to be few and far between (fewer than two sessions per month, on average). Only a very small proportion of the children live in families that receive a concrete service that is meant to support the routine operation of the household. For example, about 15% of the families are assisted by a para-professional home-care worker. Specific rehabilitative services for parents, such as drug detoxification or vocational rehabilitation, are even less common.
Services provided to the families of children in the care
of a child protection officer (in %) (N=849)
626. The patterns of service provision to this population are similar to those described in section (d) and indicate a marked preference for services that are provided directly to the child, preferably in a group framework outside the home. Investment in services for the family unit or for parents is limited.
627. However, the data do indicate that more extensive services are provided to children who are in the care of a child protection officer than to other children in the care of a social welfare department. Nevertheless, extensive disparities between the needs of the children and their families and the services provided remain evident.
628. Another issue of concern upon which social workers and other professionals agree is the shortage of services for children who are victims of abuse in the Arab community, including emergency centers, foster families, child protection officers and other trained professionals, residential settings, hotlines and support groups for parents.
(c) Emergency services
629. At times, it is necessary to provide immediate protection for children in an emergency situation. There are various ways to do this, including providing short-term shelter. “Shelter families” serve as an immediate foster placement until a child’s situation can be evaluated and a longer-term plan devised. Emergency centers and child protection teams, which function in hospitals, also provide immediate, emergency placement when the need arises.
630. Emergency centers. Since 1993, a network of six emergency centers for children has been operating in Israel. Five of these centers serve the Jewish population, and one serves the Arab population. (Two additional centers are planned for the Jewish orthodox and ultra-orthodox sub-populations.) Emergency centers are designed for short-term residence of up to three months and serve three purposes: to provide shelter for children in need of immediate protection; to provide short-term crisis intervention; to evaluate the child and his family so as to design a comprehensive long-term treatment plan for them. Intervention and planning are carried out in cooperation with professionals in the family’s community. A child is referred to a center by a child protection officer, who remains involved in treatment and acts as a case manager to ensure continuity of care when the child leaves the center.
631. Three emergency centers were evaluated during their first three years of operation. Selected data on the 205 children included in the study are presented in Table 25. The data indicate that the most prevalent reasons for referral to an emergency center were abuse or neglect. Although the centers were designed as a short-term intervention, one-third of the children remained in them for an extended time due to the lack of an appropriate longer-term solution. The majority of the children eventually returned to their parents’ home. Follow-up data on children who reached the age of 18 shows a clear decline in physical and sexual abuse and physical neglect. However, the prevalence of more complicated types of maltreatment, such as emotional neglect and abuse, did not decline dramatically, indicating need for sustained intervention.
Components of care at three emergency centers, 1993-1996 (N=205)
* There may be more than one reason for referral per child.
** Each treatment plan may contain more than one component.
632. Hospital Child Protection Teams. Hospitals also play an important role in child protection. Special teams have been set up in the emergency rooms of 26 general hospitals. These teams are headed by a social worker, and also include a doctor and a nurse. The child protection teams instruct hospital staff in dealing with cases of suspected abuse and neglect: how to recognize them, how to conduct an initial investigation of the circumstances of the child’s injury, and how to report the case to a child protection officer or the police. The members of the team can recommend hospitalizing the child until the case has been clarified and referred to the care of a child protection officer.
633. A survey of 238 children referred to child protection teams in 23 general hospitals showed a very low rate of referral: two children for every thousand children. This proportion is particularly low, given the estimates of maltreatment in Israel. Close to half of the children referred to the teams were newborn to age three. A large percentage of the children lived in families characterized by socio-economic stress factors: 15% were from single-parent families, 37% were from large families, 18% were from families with economic problems, and 29% were from families with housing problems.
634. About half of the children arrived at the emergency room with burns, bruises or wounds, and 35% reported a medical complaint. Seven percent were suicide attempts, and 8% were sexually-related complaints. In one-quarter of the cases, the adult accompanying the child reported that the injury was caused by violence, 29% reported that it was caused by a home accident, and 16% cited a medical cause. The hospital child protection teams decided to report 82% of the children to a child protection officer (Alter, 1995).
(d) Non-government services for children who are victims of abuse and neglect
635. Hotlines for Children. Several organizations operate telephone hotlines for children suffering from abuse or neglect. The following data were supplied by these hotlines:
637. Meital - The Israeli Center for the Treatment of Child Sexual Abuse is a public non-profit organization that provides professional treatment to children and adolescents who are victims of sexual abuse and their families. It also treats adults who were sexually abused during their childhood. In 1997, the organization provided treatment to 264 children under the age of 14, and to 94 adolescents (ages 15-18). Most (65%) of the clients were referred by the social services.
641. The Ministry of Education. In the wake of mandatory reporting, the Ministry of Education disseminated revised regulations in 1993 and in 1997, which were required reading for principals and teachers. The regulations explained child abuse and children’s reactions to it, described how to recognize signs of abuse, clarified the situations of physical, emotional and sexual abuse and neglect that must be reported, and instructed school staff how to act if they suspect a child has been subject to abuse or neglect. First, they must report their suspicion to a child protection officer or the police. Next, they must notify the principal and the school psychologist, guidance counselor or social worker. School staff then meet with the child protection officer to exchange information and determine an appropriate course of action for the school. School staff are instructed to refrain from questioning the child. If the abuse is suspected to have occurred within the child’s family, teachers are instructed not to contact the child so as not to endanger him. The principal is responsible for maintaining contact with the child protection officer and implementing the treatment plan. Additional regulations concerning the detection and reporting of sexual abuse, which were meant to increase the awareness and sensitivity of school staff, were issued in 1999.
642. The Psychological Service of the Ministry of Education operates a Unit for the Prevention of Child Abuse. The unit comprises 18 counselors who work throughout the country; it also runs training workshops of between three and 56 hours for teachers and guidance counselors, which cover recognizing abuse and neglect, approaching injured children, and reporting suspected abuse to the appropriate authorities. The workshops also teach educators to use preventive programs in the classroom. The director of the unit estimated that most of the school guidance counselors in Israel have participated in such a workshop.
643. The Psychological Service of the Ministry of Education has developed 11 such prevention programs for use in the classroom, adapted for children of different ages, from kindergarten through 12th grade. For example, a program for children in the first and second grades, called “Learning to Protect Ourselves”, encourages children to protect themselves from adult harassment. A program for children in third and fourth grades addresses protection in the context of children’s rights: assertiveness, recognizing one’s feelings, and dealing with uncomfortable situations, such as an uncle who forces a girl to kiss him on the lips. The program teaches children which secrets should not be kept, how to recognize adults who can be helpful, and how to contact help hotlines. The director of the Unit for the Prevention of Child Abuse reported that these programs are not often used: To her knowledge, the prevention programs were used in only 400 of the nearly 37,000 elementary classrooms in Israel during the 1996/1997 school year. The prevention unit is now trying a new approach to disseminating abuse prevention programs in the apparently less threatening context of “life skills”, alongside issues such as communication, friendship, violence, and drug abuse.
644. The Ministry of Health. In response to mandatory reporting, in 1990 the Ministry of Health published regulations regarding the obligation of health workers to report any suspected abuse or neglect of minors to a child protection officer and/or the police, and to submit a report to the Ministry’s Central Committee on Family Violence, Abuse and Neglect of Minors and the Helpless. These regulations were circulated a second time in 1996.
645. The Police Force. The Police Force is also an important component of the system to identify and prevent abuse and neglect. Representatives of the Police Force serve on relevant national committees and, in cooperation with the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, give presentations in schools.
646. The Prime Minister’s Office. Recently, the Prime Minister’s Office has initiated an extensive media campaign to increase awareness of and prevent all forms of family violence.
647. ELI - The Israel Association for Child Protection operates educational programs that increase awareness of and disseminate information about child abuse. Some of these programs are geared for children and adolescents, in an effort to encourage them to seek help if they or other children are subject to abuse. Other programs educate and train professionals. Special programs have been designed for immigrant families, in an attempt to introduce to them unfamiliar approaches to violence against children, including the use of therapy to resolve family problems and crises. ELI also operates a “Child Protection Data Bank” that collects and disseminates information about child abuse and its treatment. ELI also lobbies for legislation and social policy that would prevent child abuse and provide rehabilitative services.
648. Through lectures and seminars, the National Council for the Child educates and raises awareness about child abuse as part of its activities for children’ s rights. For example, the council held a one-day conference on non-violent education, and published the lectures presented. The council also circulates a booklet in Hebrew and Arabic entitled “Education without Violence - A Guide for Parents”. The council operates a “children’s rights” minivan that travels among schools to raise awareness and encourage reporting among children.
649. Women’s organizations such as NA’AMAT, WIZO, and Emuna actively combat family violence and offer support services to women and children who are victims of violence.
650. Meital, the Israeli Center for Treatment of Child Sexual Abuse works to increase public awareness of sexual abuse and its effects through lectures and presentations in the media (e.g., in children’s magazines and television programs). In 1997, the organization provided training and consultation for professionals in social service and voluntary agencies, the education system, and on the police force, including those who work with specific populations (e.g., Arabs, Ultra-orthodox Jews, immigrants from the former Soviet Union).
651. In addition, some radio and television channels show programs about child victims of abuse and how they may seek help. During the slot of television time reserved for children, information is presented about hotlines, whose telephone numbers are presented through catchy “jingles”. Issues of child abuse, particularly sensational cases, receive much attention in the electronic and print media.
A. Article 23 of the Convention - Children with disabilities
653. The past two decades have brought a relatively large number of changes in legislation concerning children with disabilities. These changes testify to an increasing recognition of the special needs of disabled children and their families, and to the State’s obligation to meet these needs. This section begins with a description of court rulings and legislative initiatives concerning children with disabilities. It then presents data on the number of children in Israel who suffer from disabilities, and on differences in disability rates among population sub-groups. Then the system of services for disabled children and their families is described, with emphasis on the way these enable disabled children to realize their right to live full lives and become self-reliant. The section then describes the identification and diagnosis of disability, and the provision of developmental and para-professional treatment. Lastly, it discusses the opportunities for disabled children to participate in community life and recreational activities.
655. Although disabled children were always eligible for free compulsory education according to their needs under the Compulsory Education Law, the Special Education Law passed in 1988 mandated and regulated the right of the “ exceptional child” to special education according to his needs and level of development (see Chapter IX). To this end, the law states that a child must be provided with the assistance due him under law in the “least restrictive framework”; this constitutes a declaration of a policy of integrating children with disabilities into regular frameworks to the extent possible - also known as “mainstreaming”.
656. The National Health Insurance Law 1994 regulates the eligibility of disabled children for medical and developmental care. The law established uniformity among children insured by the country’s sick funds, and set uniform minimum levels of care for all children. According to this law, children up to six years of age are eligible for diagnosis and care by an interdisciplinary team that comprises a pediatric neurologist, a psychologist, a physiotherapist, a social worker, communications clinician, and an occupational therapist. These children are also eligible for speech diagnosis and therapy, and for multi-professional care for learning disorders, minor cerebral dysfunction, language and speech impediments, communication disorders, and motor dysfunction. Medical diagnosis and care for physical disabilities are also provided by a multi-professional team regardless of the child’s age.
657. The recently enacted Rehabilitative Day-care Centers Law 2000 is designed to ensure a proper care, rehabilitation and educational framework for children ages one-three with mental retardation or other disabilities. Such children are eligible for care and education based on a basket of services determined by the Minister of Labor and Social Affairs and the Minister of Health in consultation with the Minister of Finance and the Knesset labor and welfare committee. The cost of the basket is borne by the national government, the sick funds, and the children’s parents. Care is to be provided at the rehabilitative day care center nearest the child’s home. Professional and para-professional caregivers set an individual care program for each disabled child, in consultation with a center for child development authorized by the Minister of Health, and based on the basket of services.
658. The Equal Rights for People with Disabilities Law 1998 defines a disabled person as one who has a permanent or temporary physical, emotional or mental (including cognitive) disability that severely limits his functioning in at least one primary activity of daily living (ADL). Under the law, the rights of persons with disabilities, and Israeli society’s obligation to secure these rights, are based on the principal of equality, on the recognition that man was created in God’s image, and on the principal of respect for one’s fellow man. The goal of the law is to preserve the dignity and freedom of the disabled person; anchor in law his right to equal, active participation in society; and meet his special needs while enabling him to live with a maximum of independence and dignity and to fulfill his potential. A disabled person should be enabled to make decisions that affect his life based on his own wishes and priorities. In particular, the law addresses the rights of disabled people concerning employment and access to public transportation, and calls for the establishment of a commission that will ensure equal rights for people with disabilities. The sections of the law concerning employment rights for the disabled also cover parents and relatives who care for a disabled person. Most of the law’s sections specifically avoid dealing with children.
659. The law is based on the recommendations of the public commission to examine comprehensive legislation on the rights of disabled persons in Israel, which was established after the Knesset passed the Equal Rights for People with Disabilities bill in 1996. The commission examined the bill, as well as all other legislation concerning disabled persons in Israel. The law represents only some of the legislation recommended by the commission, which continues to work to enact additional legislation. However, a major limitation of the law is that it does not ensure that funds will be budgeted for its implementation, but rather leaves this to the discretion of the Minister of Labor and Social Affairs and the Minister of Finance.
661. The National Insurance Institute (social security administration) and the JDC-Brookdale Institute conducted a national study, the first of its kind in Israel, to estimate the number of children and youth (up to age 18) with special needs, to examine these needs, and to determine the gaps between needs and services (Naon, Ifrah and Baich-Moray, 1998). “Children with special needs” were defined as children with disabilities or chronic illnesses who require constant care or medical supervision, including children who suffer from deafness, paralysis, cancer, kidney disease, mental retardation or severe learning disabilities or behavior disorders. These children have special medical, paramedical and educational needs in excess of those of their peers.
662. The study revealed that about 177,000 children, or approximately 8.5% of the children in Israel, suffer from a functional disability or chronic illness that requires constant care or medical supervision. This estimate does not include the many children who have slight learning disabilities or behavioral disorders, or problems that have not been diagnosed.
663. The study also revealed the following:
Rates of disability among children living in the community in Israel,
by type of disability (in %)*
* The percentages do not add up to 100% , as some children suffer from more than one type of disability.
665. Table 26 shows the rates of children suffering from various disabilities, according to the survey. (As some of the children suffer from more than one disability, the data do not add up to 100%.) As can be seen, more than half of the children identified in the survey as being disabled (5.6% of all children) had behavioral problems; they included children with diagnosed and non-diagnosed learning disabilities, and those broadly defined as having “ behavior problems”. About one-third of the disabled children (3.1% of all children) were diagnosed with communication problems; most suffered from speech impairment, while others were deaf or blind. About two-thirds of the children defined as being disabled (5.7% of all children) suffered from one disability, while the remaining one-third suffered from two or more disabilities.
666. Table 27 shows the rates of children suffering from various disabilities according to sector and age (as some children suffer from more than one type of disability, the percentages in the Table do not total 100%). As can be seen, a comparison of the Jewish and Arab sectors reveals variance for specific disabilities. For example, the rates of disability in ADL, motor disorders, emotional disability, mental retardation and blindness were higher in the Arab sector than in the Jewish sector - in some cases, two and even three times as high. These differences can be attributed to the socioeconomic and health conditions of this population, as well as to the relatively large percentage of intra-family marriages in the Arab sector. Conversely, the rates of learning, behavior and speech disabilities were higher in the Jewish sector. There may be a number of reasons for this. First, awareness of the need to identify and diagnose disability, even if it is “less severe”, is not as great in the Arab as in the Jewish sector. Second, professionals report a severe lack of diagnostic services in the Arab sector, particularly for disabilities of this type.
Disabilities among children living in the community in the Jewish
and Arab sectors, by type of disability and age (in %)*
* The percentages do not add up to 100% , as some children suffer from more than one type of disability.
3. The service system for disabled children in Israel
668. In addition, many voluntary and parents’ organizations play a central role in providing services to disabled children and their families, mobilizing resources, raising awareness, and advocacy. In fact, voluntary organizations that work on behalf of disabled persons in general, and disabled children in particular, play a pivotal role. Among the main organizations active on behalf of disabled children are the ALYN Hospital - Pediatric and Adolescent Rehabilitation Center devoted to children with cerebral palsy; ILAN, devoted to children and adults with physical disabilities; MICHA - The Society for Deaf Children and SHEMA, devoted to hearing-impaired children; and AKIM, devoted to children with mental retardation. The majority of the services operated by these organizations are government-financed. These organizations often operate services for disabled children by using funds received from national and local government authorities.
669. The services available to children with disabilities, and the organizations that provide them, will be described in greater detail in a later section.
(a) The health system
670. Health services play an important role in identifying, diagnosing and providing care to disabled children and their families. These include family health centers, centers for child development, the system of mental health services, and hospitals.
671. Family health centers provide preventive health services to pregnant women and children newborn to age five. Centers are located throughout the country, operate on a neighborhood or community basis, and employ a holistic approach. Most of the nurses work with families from pregnancy through a child’s early development. Families perceive the centers, which cover almost the entire population, as a source for support: It is estimated that 95% of all families with young children visit a family health center from pregnancy through the child’s first two years of life. Use of these centers declines after a child has reached two and a half years of age.
672. As part of their mandate to monitor pregnancies and early childhood development, family health centers conduct examinations at pre-defined intervals, according to a uniform protocol. Consequently, they serve as a primary agent for identifying children with disabilities: They alert parents to possible problems, instruct parents how to encourage their child’s development and, when problems are identified, conduct follow-up examinations and refer children for further diagnosis and care.
673. In fact, the agencies responsible for diagnosis and care of young children with disabilities (such as child development centers) report that family health centers are a primary source of referral to them. In a 1999 study of a representative sample of 16 directors of child development centers, ten directors reported that children were most often referred by a family health center (Naon, Sandler-Loeff and Strosberg, 2000).
674. When developmental problems are suspected, or when they are discovered by a primary care physician or nurse at a family health center, the child is usually referred to a center for child development. There are 29 such centers in Israel: 11 of them are operated by the Ministry of Health, nine by Clalit Health Services (Israel’s largest sick fund), five by the Maccabi Sick Fund, two by the Meuhedet Sick Fund, one by the kibbutz movement, and one by the Sisters of Mercy in Nazareth. Most of those operated by the Ministry of Health are located in hospitals; those operated by the Maccabi and Meuhedet Sick Funds are located in the community; and those operated by Clalit Health Services are located in either a hospital or the community.
675. Centers for child development focus on early diagnosis, counseling, and care for preschool children who may be suffering from developmental or functional disabilities. The centers view their primary role as providing diagnosis and care for developmental problems in order to promote a child’s maximum ability to function. Many center directors view support of the family as a primary objective. Some centers operate nursery schools for children with mental retardation, blindness and autism. The centers’ services include diagnosis by a developmental physician or neurologist; psychological diagnosis; paramedical diagnosis and care (e.g., physical and occupational therapy, communications therapy); and consultation with a social worker. Some centers also offer special services, such as parent support groups, art therapy and examination by a developmental nurse.
676. A study of a representative sample of 16 centers for child development found that the centers treat between 100 and 800 children at any given time (the average number was 450). In all, then, the centers serve an estimated 13,000 children at any given time. Most of the centers treat children age three and older. Under the National Health Insurance Law, child development services are covered by the sick funds up to age six, though there is no age ceiling on services for children with severe physical disabilities. As of 1998, the centers operated by the Maccabi Sick Fund and the Ministry of Health usually ceased treatment at age six, while the centers operated by the Clalit and Meuhedet Sick Funds treated children as old as seven and eight. One-quarter of the centers studied had special programs for children ages 11-12 with learning disabilities and behavior problems (Sandler-Loeff and Naon, 1997).
677. The majority of children who receive care at these centers suffer from developmental retardation, language impairment, and learning disabilities. The centers operated by the Ministry of Health and the Clalit Health Services also treat a relatively large proportion of children with more severe disabilities, including moderate to severe mental retardation and cerebral palsy.
678. According to center directors, some groups of children are not adequately covered by the centers, including Arab children, ultra-Orthodox Jewish children, children who are new immigrants and children from disadvantaged families. A recent study of these centers revealed that most of them have waiting lists, and that the waiting time for specific services, such as speech therapy, may be as long as several months. This is critical, as early detection may be crucial to overcoming developmental problems. Center directors cited several reasons for this situation: (a) the centers themselves do not have the resources to identify children who need intervention and, except for family health centers, neither do other services; (b) both families and medical professionals in the community lack awareness of developmental disabilities; and (c) the centers do not have staff who speak languages other than Hebrew - a fact which makes utilization of services even more difficult for some population groups (Strosberg, Sandler-Loeff and Naon, 2000).
679. Another group whose needs are not being met is that of children with non-physical disabilities who require care beyond age six (when their eligibility for care under the National Health Insurance Law ends). If deemed eligible by a placement committee, these children may receive care through the special education system. Most children with non-physical disabilities who receive care at a child development center are ineligible for special education, and have been integrated into the regular education system (i.e. “mainstreamed”); these children may receive assistance in the framework of a “ reinforcement basket”, which only partially covers their needs. Other needs are met by continuing programs, offered by other frameworks. Child development centers have proposed extending their services to additional age groups.
680. Children with somatic (physical) disabilities are eligible for services after age six under the National Health Insurance Law. Most are eligible for paramedical services under the Special Education Law. The majority of center directors who participated in the study cited above reported that they do not provide services to children who attend special education frameworks.
681. Another problem with coverage arose following implementation of the National Health Insurance Law, which made the sick funds responsible for financing developmental services for children under the age of eight. Under the law, these services are conditional upon a co-payment by parents; however, co-payment covers only a small proportion of the cost of service - which may be substantial, if a child requires more than one type of service, or if a family has limited income. In the past, parents could petition a special committee to be exempted from co-payment. However, these committees were disbanded following implementation of the law and the transfer of responsibility to sick funds, such that parents with severely disabled children, or with limited financial means, may not be able to afford services (Strosberg, Sandler-Loeff and Naon, 2000).
682. It should also be noted that the transfer of responsibility for developmental services to the sick funds caused upheaval in the system of child development centers. As the sick funds were now compelled to cover these expenditures from the mandated basic basket of services, they developed their own developmental centers, believing this to be more cost effective. However, the sick funds’ developmental centers focus on children with less severe problems, which do not require a multi-professional response. This led to fewer referrals to centers operated by the Ministry of Health, which employ multi-professional teams and which serve children whose disabilities are more severe and require greater expertise and more resources. It is not yet clear what impact this trend may have on the ability of the centers or the service system to meet the needs of children with disabilities.
683. The Ministry of Health provides equipment and medical assistive devices to disabled children, including devices to aid mobility and walking, special mattresses and beds, and hearing and vision aids, as well as additional devices at the discretion of a committee for exceptional circumstances. The Ministry usually pays up to 75% of the cost of an assistive device, and 100% of the cost for a low-income family receiving National Insurance Institute income benefits. In order to receive 75% coverage of an assistive device from the Ministry, a physician’s confirmation of need is required (as is that of additional professionals, in some cases). In 1996, 663 pairs of special shoes or assistive devices for walking, and 93 prosthetics, were provided to children with disabilities, most of whom had cerebral palsy or a somatic birth defect. An inter-ministerial committee comprising representatives of the Ministries of Health and Housing provides cash grants to adults and children who have impaired mobility, which enable them to renovate their home - e.g., widen doorways, build an access ramp, add safety features in the bathroom - to make them more accessible.
684. Mental health services. Public mental health services are provided through a network of out-patient mental health clinics for children and adolescents that are operated by the Ministry of Health, sick funds, and hospitals for the mentally ill. These clinics are staffed by specially-trained professionals, and offer diagnostic testing, counseling and psychiatric care, as well as training for parents. Services are usually provided free of charge or for a token fee.
685. Nonetheless, professionals note large gaps between available mental health services and the community’s needs. The clinics have been criticized for serving primarily middle-income groups and not addressing more difficult populations, including dysfunctional families. This may be because the clinics do not reach difficult populations, such as non-compliant families and families with multiple problems. In recent years, the Ministry of Health has sought to improve mental health services for children and youth. For example, the Ministry helped establish a mental health center for children in Beer Sheva to alleviate the shortage of mental health services in the south. The center reflected the Ministry’s commitment to inter-organizational efforts on behalf of at-risk populations. A similar center was established in Ashdod in 1997.
686. Another problem facing mental health service delivery is the inaccessibility of clinics in some geographic areas. Most clinics are regional, and serve a broad geographic area. For example, prior to the establishment of the clinic in Ashdod, psychiatric care was available to the city’s children only at a children’s clinic in a hospital in another city.
687. Services for children whose mental health problems require them to be hospitalized are provided in the inpatient departments of hospitals for the mentally ill. According to Ministry of Health data, 369 children and youth were hospitalized for psychiatric reasons in 1998.
688. In recent years, two issues have arisen regarding the psychiatric hospitalization of children and youth. One concerns children who are hospitalized only because of the lack of another framework that suits their needs. In response to this problem, the Service for Children and Youth of the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, in cooperation with the Ministry of Health, has begun to operate out-of-home frameworks that offer an alternative to hospitalization.
689. The other issue concerns the compulsory psychiatric hospitalization of children and youth - a practice severely criticized in the 1997 State Comptroller’ s Report. According to the Treatment of Mentally Ill Law 1991, the person responsible for a minor may request that the minor be admitted to a psychiatric hospital, and consent in the minor’s name to his hospitalization and treatment. However, if a minor who has reached the age of 15 refuses to be hospitalized, a court order is necessary, issued on the basis of the regular causes cited in cases of compulsory hospitalization of a minor. If the minor has not yet reached the age of 15 and his caregivers realize that he does not agree to be hospitalized, a decision will be made by a district psychiatric committee for children and youth comprising a legal professional, a psychiatrist specializing in child and adolescent psychiatry, a clinical child psychologist, an educational psychologist and a social worker. A minor who has reached the age of 15 may ask to be voluntarily admitted to a psychiatric hospital, although if the person responsible for him does not agree, the consent of the court is required. Fifty-three (about 10%) children were admitted to a psychiatric hospital in 1996 under a compulsory hospitalization order. The State Comptroller found that the district psychiatric committees for children and youth met irregularly, and that some children and youth were hospitalized in a manner that contradicted the letter of the law. The Ministry of Health responded that “substantial effort was made to recruit committee members and set guidelines … The primary difficulty implementing the law stems from a lack of manpower and the short deadlines set in the law … For many months we have been working with the Ministry of Justice to alter the law” (State Comptroller’s Office, 1997).
(b) The social welfare system
(i) The National Insurance Institute
690. As noted, the National Insurance Institute pays disabled child benefits to children who are eligible for them by law.
691. A disabled child above the age of three whose disability renders him totally dependent on his parents 24 hours a day is eligible for a monthly benefit equivalent to about 40% of the average wage. A completely dependent child who is attending school or is older than 14 is eligible for an additional 20%. In addition, autistic children and deaf children up to age eight are eligible for this benefit, regardless of their diagnosed level of dependency. A disabled child who is dependent on his parents to a great extent for most of the day is eligible for a monthly benefit equivalent to 25% of the average wage. Children with Down’s Syndrome are eligible for 50% of the full individual benefit, regardless of their diagnosed dependency, as are children between the ages of eight and 18 who are hearing impaired (45 decibels), sight impaired or blind, or who require protracted medical care (dialysis, chemotherapy, etc.). In the early 1990s, eligibility for disabled child benefits was extended to newborn children.
692. Children whose disability is developmental are eligible for the benefit according to the following criteria, regardless of their diagnosed dependency:
694. According to National Insurance Institute data, in 1998, 14,379 children - or 7.1 of every 1,000 children in Israel - received a disability benefit from the Institute. The proportion of children receiving National Insurance Institute disability benefits was higher in the Arab than Jewish population. This corroborates the finding that a larger proportion of Arab than Jewish children have severe disabilities (and thus are eligible for National Insurance Institute benefits); it also reflects the high rate of utilization of this service in the Arab population.
Children receiving National Insurance Institute Disability Benefits
in June 1997, by age (in absolute numbers)
695. Eligibility criteria for the child disability benefit have been developed on a piecemeal basis; historically, the inclusion of various populations has been influenced by the activities of lobbyists (such as parents of children with a specific disability). Therefore, eligibility criteria for providing benefits do not always reflect the level of disability. Consequently, efforts are being made to revise the criteria to better reflect the needs of the child. Based on data from a survey of children with disabilities (Naon, Ifrah and Baich-Moray, 1998), a proposal was made to change the criteria for provision of the disability benefit, and to add some 4,000 children (half of whom are moderately or severely retarded) to the eligibility pool. The Knesset’s health and welfare committee has adopted the proposal and is promoting this change.
696. The Fund to Develop Services for the Disabledof the National Insurance Instituteprovides funding for the development of new services for disabled people who receive disability benefits. Grants are made to develop services (such as structural modifications, rehabilitative or therapeutic equipment) to public agencies (e.g., associations, local authorities). The fund is not meant to be used for the development of services that are the stated responsibility of other government agencies (e.g., opening a school or clinic), nor is it meant to be used to purchase property or to construct facilities.
(ii) The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs
697. Two divisions of the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs are responsible for the care of the disabled of all ages. The Division of Care for the Mentally Retarded is responsible for children with mental retardation, and the Division of Rehabilitation is responsible for children with somatic disabilities, the blind and the deaf, and those suffering from borderline mental retardation who have not been classified as being mentally retarded by the Division of Care for the Mentally Retarded.
698. These divisions are responsible for placing disabled children in out-of-home frameworks, and for supervising these frameworks. In addition, they supply a variety of services to disabled children in the community. Along with the Ministry of Education and other organizations, they operate preschools for disabled children who are not yet eligible for special education, and help operate extended school day programs for children with disabilities, beyond what is budgeted by the education system. In addition, they operate respite care centers for these children, so as to grant their families temporary relief from the ongoing need to provide care.
699. The Service for the Blind is responsible for providing blind people with special equipment that enables them to function normally in the community. In also provides aides who accompany disabled children to classes in regular schools.
700. The Ministry also provides support services and psychosocial assistance to disabled children and their families through local social welfare departments. It also places disabled children in foster and adoptive homes (see Chapter VII).
701. As noted, the social welfare system has primary responsibility for providing out-of-home care. At present, some 1,500 mentally retarded children and a small number of children with other disabilities reside in various frameworks. A small number of children currently reside in several community housing frameworks, one of which is for children with mental retardation, and one of which is for those with physical disabilities. Community housing frameworks are developing rapidly. While most of them serve children with mild disabilities, four new facilities are geared for severely mentally disabled children.
702. As noted, in the past, children with emotional or severe behavior problems were admitted to psychiatric hospitals due to the lack of a more suitable way to meet their needs. In the 1990s, in an attempt to better meet these needs, the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs established post-hospitalization units within existing out-of-home frameworks. These units are geared for severely emotionally disturbed children who have been discharged from a psychiatric hospital but who are unable to reside in the community; their goals are to be an alternative to psychiatric hospitalization and to prevent long, unwarranted hospital stays. In 1996, there were six such post-hospitalization frameworks.
703. Another group of children with disabilities (primarily learning disabilities and behavioral disorders) is that of children who reside in out-of-home and rehabilitation frameworks supervised by the Service for Children and Youth of the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs (see Chapter VII).
(c) The education system
704. The education system is a major provider of services to disabled children in Israel, through special education and regular schools, and support frameworks under the auspices of the Ministry of Education. A major part of the services are provided under the Special Education Law 1988.
705. Section 1 of the Special Education Law covers “exceptional children” ages three-21 who are physically, mentally, emotionally or behaviorally dysfunctional. The goal of special education, as stipulated in section 2 of the law, is “to promote and develop the talents and abilities of the exceptional child; repair and improve his physical, mental, emotional and behavioral functioning; teach him knowledge, skills and habits; and help him acquire acceptable social behavior in order to ease his integration into society and employment”. It is assumed that these children have special educational needs; that meeting these needs requires special teaching materials and methods; and that without these, the children will not enjoy equal developmental opportunities.
706. A personal study plan must be prepared for each exceptional child attending a special education framework. The plan should describe the child’s level of functioning at the time of its preparation, and set educational goals and objectives, determine the length of time and the means necessary to realize them, and establish a standard for measuring whether these have been achieved. At the end of the school year, the child’s parents are given a written evaluation of his progress, with reference to his personal study plan.
707. The approach of the law, as stipulated in sections 7b and 7c, is to integrate disabled children into the least restrictive framework possible. Eligibility is determined by a placement committee composed of a representative of the local school system (the chairman), two Ministry of Education supervisors, an educational psychologist, a pediatrician, a social worker, and a representative of the national special education parents’ committee. The placement committee must hear the child’s parents or representative before making a decision; it may also hear directly from the child. In general, the committee must explain its decisions to the parents; if there is a reason for not doing so, an educational psychologist, physician or social worker is given access to the committee protocol on behalf of the family. Every three years, the principal of a special education institution must bring the students’ cases for review before the placement committee. Review may take place after a shorter interval at the behest of the principal or a voluntary organization that serves exceptional children and that has been recognized by the Minister of Education. The child’s parents may also request a review one year after the previous hearing. In addition, the placement committee’s decision may be appealed to an appeals committee by the child, his parents, or a recognized voluntary organization.
708. Although the aim of the law, as noted, is to integrate into regular education those children who can benefit from such integration, the law does not determine the rights of these children, or the services for which they are eligible and which would make integration possible. Consequently, in practice, most of the funds for implementing the law have been allocated to special education frameworks, and this presents a serious barrier to mainstreaming. Despite this, the Ministry of Education does allocate funds for mainstreamed children, which are used to provide them with educational and paramedical services. These funds are allocated on an individual basis by “integration committees” ; that operate at the local level, and not under the provisions of the law.
709. Teachers at a special education institution must be certified as teachers and have undergone training in special education. However, the director-general of the Ministry of Education is authorized to grant a temporary permit to teachers who have not undergone such training. In this way, non-teaching assistants and caregivers such as psychologists may be employed in special education frameworks. The Minister of Education, with the consent of the Minister of Finance, must set a maximum number of students permitted in a special education classroom. He is permitted (with the consent of the Minister of Finance) to establish an extended school day at some or all special education institutions, to determine the number of hours in an extended school day, and to determine the services necessary for an extended school day (e.g., meals).
(i) Implementation of the Special Education Law
710. The Special Education Law 1988 does not define the extent or type of services for which students are eligible. Rather, it stipulates that these be determined in regulations governing the law’s implementation, which requires the agreement of the Ministers of Education and Finance. The lack of a clear definition of eligibility under the law led to a protracted process, during which regulations and methods of implementation were determined. In addition, disagreement over budgetary allocations between representatives of the Ministries of Education and Finance further delayed implementation.
711. In 1994, a master plan was designed to help formulate standards and assess how much the Special Education Law would cost the education system. The plan details the types of care to be provided under the law, as well as the number of care hours and the manpower required per disability. It defines the type and scope of service provided by the education system to children who are eligible for special education, based on the extent of their disability and type of need, and the type of educational framework.
712. At the request of the Ministry of Education, the JDC-Brookdale Institute assessed the equipment needs of special education frameworks (Naon et al., 1996). The results of this assessment became, in effect, a recommendation regarding the extent of equipment allocation under the law, and served as the basis for equipping the special education system. In addition, the Institute for Education and Welfare Structures prepared a detailed construction plan for schools in the special education system.
713. In order to implement the Special Education Law 1988, NIS 200 million over and above the budget for the 1995 school year were allocated over a four-year period (1996-1999, during which time implementation was to be completed). This budgetary supplement was to facilitate the gradual introduction of the baskets of services included in the master plan. It did not cover three areas eligible for separate budget supplements: the provision of medical and paramedical care; the physical development of special education institutions; and the equipping of special education frameworks.
714. The Special Education Law did not determine the extent of funding required to implement it. Thus, its implementation is dependent on the allocation of funds by the Ministry of Finance, through negotiation with the Ministry of Education. The process of implementation has consequently been lengthy, extending over the course of a decade. During this process, elements of the law that are explicitly defined, such as longer school days and extension of coverage from age three to 21, have been implemented, while elements of the law that are ambiguous, such as the level of paramedical services or equipment required, have not been implemented. Negotiations between the Ministries are continuing.
(ii) The structure of the education system for children with disabilities and special needs
715. Children with disabilities and special needs may attend any of the following frameworks:
717. According to data from the Ministry of Education, about 35,000 children attend special education frameworks. An additional 80,000 children receive special education services in a regular framework (see Table 29).
Students in special education frameworks, by type of framework, 1996
719. Table 30 shows the distribution of children in special education frameworks by type of disability, as defined by the Ministry of Education. As can be seen in the Table, the majority (70%) of students in special education frameworks have learning disabilities, behavior or emotional problems, delayed development (preschool children), or mild retardation. Nineteen percent suffer from moderate to severe retardation, and 3% suffer from cerebral palsy or a physical handicap. Seven percent are autistic or emotionally ill, or are hospitalized.
Children in special education frameworks (special education schools
or special classes in regular schools), by main disability
* Disabilities are defined according to accepted classifications of the Ministry of Education.
720. The implementation of the Special Education Law 1988 is based on three guiding principles, one of which is to mainstream children into the regular education system. Ministry of Education data indicate that about 80,000 pupils attend classes in regular schools, with the help of special education services.
721. The master plan defines two different baskets of services for children with disabilities who attend regular schools. The “integration basket” is for students who have been mainstreamed by a placement committee, and includes special education teaching, paramedical and therapeutic services. The “ reinforcement basket” is for blind and visually impaired, and deaf and hearing impaired, students who have been mainstreamed (not necessarily by a placement committee), and includes special aids and educational services. The Division for Special Education also covers educational services for home-bound students. Services are allocated according to a student’s personal study plan. The scope of services allocated as part of the integration and reinforcement baskets is smaller than that of the services allocated in special education schools and classes. The Ministry of Education allocates some 84,000 weekly special education hours (integration hours) for mainstreamed students. Each local authority is allocated a quota of teaching hours based on the number of students in its jurisdiction, the school’s “ development index”, and the percentage of students with slight disabilities who are referred to placement committees in an effort to encourage their mainstreaming. In addition, the Ministry of Education allocates some 350 positions for full-time assistants to students with severe physical disabilities who have been mainstreamed into regular schools and need this assistance to function. However, these resources are limited, and are provided mainly to children with severe disabilities. As a result, children with mild disabilities (such as learning disabilities) do not receive services in accordance with their needs.
722. Over the years, programs have been developed to assist disabled children who have been mainstreamed into the regular education system. These programs lie on the continuum between the full integration of disabled children into the regular school system, through partial integration in which the child learns some subjects in a regular classroom or attends regular classes on certain days, to full social integration in and out of school through joint recreational activities for disabled and non-disabled children. One example is the MACHAR Program, implemented in Jerusalem, which offers support and rehabilitation to children with cerebral palsy who have been mainstreamed into regular classes, as well as paramedical services and educational services after school hours. It should be noted that there is no systematic information on the success of these programs, nor is there information on or policy regarding the resources necessary for them to succeed. However, there is evidence that professional assistance both to the disabled children and the regular schools that integrate them contributes to successful educational and social integration.
723. The gradual implementation of the Special Education Law 1988 and the policy of mainstreaming children with special needs into the regular education system have resulted in a significant decrease in the number of children attending special education classes in regular schools and special education schools. In 1991, the proportion of students in special education schools and special education classes in regular schools was 4% of all students in the Jewish sector and 2.3% of all students in the Arab sector; by 1997, these figure had dropped to 3% and 2%, respectively. For the most part, integration has affected children with learning disabilities, deafness or hearing impairment, and blindness or vision impairment. There is no systematic policy of integration regarding children with other disabilities. It is worth nothing that, due to the limited allocation of resources to the regular education system, relative to the special education system, the needs of mainstreamed children may not be being adequately met.
724. Another goal of the master plan for the implementation of the Special Education Law 1988 is to make special education and paramedical services available to all those who need them, as well as to decentralize the allocation of resources to municipalities and schools. To this end, the Ministry has established 67 local/regional support centers, some of which are located in facilities that also offer paramedical and therapeutic services to disabled children. However, not all regions have a center as yet.
725. Children with special needs, especially those with learning disabilities who attend regular schools, are eligible for special consideration regarding matriculation examinations, including being given extra time to take the examinations, being tested orally, and being exempted from parts of examinations. The right to such consideration is granted by a special committee, which bases its decision on the diagnosis of a psychologist or an expert in learning disabilities. In recent years, increased awareness of learning disabilities has led to a dramatic increase in the number of requests for special consideration: In 1996, some 15,000 students petitioned the committee. This will require reorganizing the system of referral, rethinking who should make referrals, and reexamining the criteria for referral.
726. Special services for children with disabilities - children who attend both regular and special education classes and schools - are also provided under other laws. For example, the Safe Transportation of Invalid Children Law 1994 stipulates that children ages three to 21 who, due to physical, mental, emotional or behavioral disability are unable to travel by themselves, are eligible for transportation from their home or a proximate location to an educational institution and back, in accordance with their needs and handicaps. It is the responsibility of the local authority in which a child resides to provide this transportation, and to ensure that it is undertaken in a safe vehicle that is adapted for the child’s disability.
(iv) The involvement of parents and children in determining placement and a program of care
727. One issue that has drawn a great deal of public attention is that of the process of placement in special education, which stigmatizes a child as being “exceptional” and, when unwarranted, can impede his opportunities to realize his potential and his right to a suitable type and level of education. Therefore, a child is only placed in a special education framework if it is clear that he cannot benefit from regular education. As noted, eligibility for special education is determined by a placement committee.
728. Placement committees operate according to guidelines meant to ensure parental participation in the placement process. Each includes a representative of the national special education parents’ committee, so that a layperson can monitor the committee’s decisions from the parents’ perspective and offer a sympathetic ear to the parents of the child under discussion.
729. Before making a decision, the placement committee must hear the parents and allow them to review all relevant documents. The committee may also hear the child, though this is not mandatory; nevertheless, according to administrative regulations, the committee must at least consider hearing the child. The committee must also inform parents in writing of its decision and the reasons for it. The child, a parent or a representative of a public organization can appeal a committee’s decision within 21 days. Parents may also have their child’s case brought before a committee for review after one year.
730. The emphasis placed on parents’ rights and involvement in decisions concerning their child’s placement also finds expression in Ministry of Education guidelines: “An ongoing dialogue with parents is desirable, as is the provision of assistance in admitting the child and adopting suitable methods of care” (Ministry of Education, 1992).
731. By law, parents must be included in the preparation of their child’s personal care and study plan at the beginning of each academic year, and must be given reports of his progress.
732. There is no systematic information on the extent to which these provisions are adequately implemented. Apparently, this differs depending on the locality and the composition of the placement committee, and the approach of the specific professionals involved in the committee.
733. There are, however, indications that the law’s directives are not being implemented in their entirety. HILA, an organization of parents of children in the special education system, helps parents who feel their child has been or is being unjustly placed in special education. According to HILA, committees do not always give preference to the regular system, and in many instances, children from families with low income (or who live in poor neighborhoods or development towns) who have difficulty with their studies or who have adjustment problems are referred to special education. In addition, many parents are unaware of their right under the law to seek a review after one year, to appeal the placement committee’s decision, and to be partners in the planning of their child’s study plan. Moreover, the HILA official reported that parents are often not involved in setting their child’s study plan, remain unaware of efforts to assist exceptional children, and do not receive progress reports that they can understand.
734. According to HILA, the problem is particularly severe among new immigrants, especially those from Ethiopia who do not understand Hebrew or the special education placement process. Many parents claim that they are not invited to appear before the placement committee, and have no idea what is taking place.
735. On the other hand, according to professionals, supervisors and parents in the special education system, many schools hold special activities for parents, especially those whose children are in their first year of special education, and include them in all aspects of the special education placement process as well as in making the study plan. Some professionals even claim that the need to protect the rights of parents and include them as partners is not to the children’s benefit, and that the system “fears” the parents and “makes no move without them”.
736. The lack of systematic information on this issue impedes an estimate of how prevalent such feelings are. Nevertheless, the system is aware of the difficulties that can arise between parents and professionals during the special education placement process. In recent years, a number of steps have been taken to promote partnership between parents and professionals. The committee for special education of the HILA deals with problems encountered by parents in the special education system nationwide. The committee maintains contact with the Ministry of Education and various institutions, on one hand, and with parents who have “fallen between the cracks”, on the other, promoting partnership between parents and the special education system and bridging the gap between parents and both schools and placement committees.
737. Recently, various efforts have been made to improve the functioning of placement committees and monitor their work. These include the establishment of routine procedures under the law; the formulation of regulations governing referral to and the work of placement and appeals committees; and the holding of study days and workshops for committee members on the Special Education Law, committee work procedures, the mainstreaming of exceptional students, and the rights of parents in the placement process.
738. In 1994, a pamphlet was published for parents whose children have been referred to a special education placement committee, explaining the care provided to children; the process of referral for psychological testing; the role and functioning of placement and appeals committees; and where to find additional information.
(d) Voluntary organizations
739. There are a large number of voluntary organizations that serve people with disabilities. Some organizations serve only children, while others serve children as part of a broader target population. Some organizations advocate for the rights of the disabled, while others provide information and counseling or services, and others do a little bit of everything. We shall refer to some of the organizations that operate nationally.
(i) General organizations
740. Bizchut - The Israel Center for Human Rights of People with Disabilities, established by the Israel Association for Civil Rights,promotes the rights, welfare and well-being of disabled people of all ages by providing counseling and legal representation concerning education, housing and employment. It also provides information on the rights of the disabled, and lobbies to raise public awareness and promote better legislation.
741. The Umbrella Organization of Organizations for the Disabled and of Unaffiliated Disabled Persons promotes the full social integration of the disabled. It attempts to enhance the disabled persons’ self-image and their image in the eyes of others. It works on behalf of all disabled persons and organizations for the disabled in Israel, operating an information center, raising issues in public forums, lobbying for legislation, and conducting information campaigns. It provides free legal counseling for disabled people and makes referrals to other organizations.
742. KESHERwas established in 1989 as a pilot project of the Jerusalem Council for Children and Youth. It became an independent, non-profit national organization in 1993. KESHER’s professional counselors assist parents, free of charge, through the maze of services and multitude of service providers involved in their child’s care. It helps them to sort out difficulties and reconnects them to the relevant services, offers advice about service referrals, and acts as a mediator/advocate for families with community agencies. KESHER’s hotline for parents and professionals operates in Hebrew, Arabic, Russian and Amharic. Information on rights, benefits and services is constantly updated via a bi-monthly newsletter, as well as in pamphlets on specific issues. A national network of local branches is being developed.
743. HILA serves the parents of children in special education frameworks and promotes the rights of these children.
(ii) Physical disability and handicap
744. ILAN- The Israel Foundation for Handicapped Children provides assistance, education and rehabilitation to children with polio, cerebral palsy, and conditions that result in motor dysfunction or impaired mobility. It sponsors a variety of activities, including kindergartens and schools, a Mainstreaming Center, clubs and recreational frameworks for children, sports teams and activities, respite care, vocational training, the procurement of assistive devices, group homes, and community housing for independent living. In addition, ILAN offers children and their families consultations with a social worker, and disseminates information.
(iii) Hearing impairment
745. MICHA - The Society for Deaf Children develops and operates educational, rehabilitation and care frameworks for children newborn to age seven who are hearing impaired and their families, and provides professional counseling and support to the organizations and professionals that serve them. MICHA operates preschool programs and programs in language acquisition for infants identified with hearing loss by family health centers (in cooperation with the Ministry of Health). In addition, MICHA operates programs through regional associations, including special frameworks for young children, care for children in integrated preschools, communications therapy, and psychosocial counseling for children and their families. MICHA’s goal is to promote the inclusion of hearing-impaired individuals into education and society.
746. SHEMA operates under the supervision of the Ministry of Education. It identifies and provides educational and rehabilitative services to deaf and hearing impaired children and youth ages six-20. Available nationwide, SHEMA’s services include developmental, psychological and social diagnosis; psychosocial care; counseling and training for parents; social clubs and activities; remedial and enrichment lessons; communications therapy; and financial assistance purchasing hearing aids. It also disseminates information and audio-visual materials, and advises professionals. In addition, SHEMA has developed a model for mainstreaming students with hearing impairment, which is currently being implemented.
(iv) Learning disabilities, retardation, autism and Down’s Syndrome
747. ALUT - The Israeli Society for Autistic Children cares for children from birth onwards who have been diagnosed with varying degrees of autism or P.D.D. (Pervasive Developmental Disorder). ALUT establishes frameworks (settings) for these children, and offers counseling and guidance for parents. It sets up group homes for young children, adolescents and adults. A center for parents provides lectures, parent support groups and raises awareness about autism and P.D.D.
748. AKIM - The National Association for the Habilitation of Persons with Mental Retardation promotes the welfare of mentally retarded individuals of all ages and all levels of retardation, and their families. It provides therapeutic, educational, occupational, social, sport, cultural, housing, counseling services and respite care for infants age six months, to adults age 30. It develops community housing and social services; offers legal assistance; establishes open-houses for families (which offer individual or group therapy, guidance and enrichment for families, a parent-to-parent program, and a club for parents); operates a social center for retarded adults; offers art education, organized outings, day and holiday camps, and cultural and sporting events and disseminates information. AKIM increasingly encourages mainstreaming.
749. YATED - The Association of Parents of Down Syndrome Children is a parents’ association that provides counseling and guidance; operates an information center; holds conferences and study days for parents and professionals; sponsors family support groups; publishes periodicals; maintains contact with government ministries and public authorities to promote the rights of children with Down’s Syndrome and promotes research. This national association contributes to the progress of children and adults with Down’s Syndrome, aids their families, changes negative stereotypes about them, and ensures their right to a happy and creative life.
750. The Shalem Foundation helps establish, finance, enlarge and equip community services geared for retarded individuals, and gives financial grants to local authorities that develop such services. A condition of this assistance is the existence of additional funding partners. The Foundation does not underwrite manpower or operational costs.
751. NITZAN - Society for the Advancement of Learning Disabled Children and Adults, established in 1964, is a voluntary parents’ association that serves children, adolescents and adults with learning, adaptive and functional disabilities. NITZAN has 40 branches nationwide, and employs professionals and public figures in its institutions. It provides diagnosis; family counseling and support; paramedical care; psychological counseling; remedial instruction; enrichment classes; assistance to special schools and classes; stipends for low-income families; and information about other service providers. To raise awareness, NITZAN publishes pamphlets, organizes in-service training and conferences for professionals, and sponsors a pedagogic hotline for parents and others.
754. As can be seen, care for children with disabilities is provided by a variety of agencies and organizations. Each one’s area of responsibility is determined by type of disability, age and type of service provided. Consequently, a child may need services from a number of sources concurrently. For example, he may receive paramedical care from a child development center, counseling from the Educational Psychological Service, respite care from the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, and a disabled child benefit from the National Insurance Institute. In addition, responsibility for care is transferred from one authority to another when the child reaches a certain age. For example, responsibility for children with mental retardation passes from the country’s sick funds to the education system when the child enters the special education system.
755. Service providers have a major impact on the lives of disabled children and their families. Due to the multitude of providers, parents often find it difficult to navigate the network of services and to understand the regulations governing eligibility. The parents bear the responsibility for coordinating the services their child receives so as to ensure continuity of care. Many parents complain that every time a new professional enters the picture, they must relate the history of their child’s disability, wrestle with a complicated bureaucracy, and have their child diagnosed yet again. Thus, two issues confront the system of services for disabled children: inter-service coordination, and the availability and accessibility of information to parents.
756. Professionals, policymakers and parents of disabled children repeatedly emphasize the need to coordinate and define more clearly the roles of various organizations on behalf of their respective target populations; and to establish mechanisms for transmitting information among professionals from different organizations who care for individual children, and among those who care for children at various points in time and in transition from framework to framework.
757. At present, the JDC-Brookdale Institute is conducting a comprehensive study of mechanisms for the coordination of services for disabled children of all ages. The study is focusing on policy, as well as on the coordination of care for individuals. Its findings will provide insight into the advantages and disadvantages of existing coordination mechanisms. The study is being monitored by a steering committee, whose members represent a range of organizations.
758. As may be seen from the description of the system of care, many organizations attempt to provide parents with information on services and rights. KESHER periodically publishes an “Information Notebook”, the National Insurance Institute periodically publishes a guide to the rights of disabled children, and other organizations use a variety of means to inform parents about specific disabilities. In order to meet the need for up-to-date information on the rights of parents and professionals to services, JDC-Israel established a computerized data base on rehabilitative services for people with disabilities, including children. The data base is now managed by the Henrietta Szold Institute.
760. In addition, a number of dispensations for the families of disabled children are meant to ease access. For example, special parking permits are given to the parents of children who have lower extremity motor disorders or who need a respirator; these permits allow them to park in spaces designated for disabled drivers, as well as to park free of charge in areas where parking is available for a fee. The parents of children with mobility problems (i.e., who have been granted a 60% disability rating by the district health bureau or have been designated by a physician as having a disability that requires a motor vehicle for purposes of mobility) are exempt from annual motor vehicle registration fees.
761. Despite laws pertaining to accessible planning and construction, many buildings in Israel are inaccessible to wheelchair-bound persons. In a spot-check conducted by the Ministry of Economic Planning in 1995, 40% of the structures examined were found to be inaccessible. In general, schools, shelters and public transportation are inaccessible to wheelchair-bound individuals. Many city sidewalks have not been lowered despite provisions in the Municipalities Ordinance. The results of a survey conducted for the City of Tel Aviv-Jaffa in 1993 and presented to the public commission on legislation on the rights of persons with disabilities in Israel reveal that the majority of municipal structures (hospitals, preschools and schools, colleges and universities, museums, cultural and community centers, clubs, sports centers and swimming pools, sick fund clinics and movie theaters) are inaccessible to the disabled: Only 17 of the 167 structures examined were found to be accessible.
762. Problems of physical accessibility are compounded for some disabled people by problems of sensory accessibility. Most services provided by local authorities (e.g., information and service counters) are inaccessible to people who are blind or deaf. Most television broadcasts are inaccessible to the deaf. Even in times of emergency (such as war) or particular public interest (elections), the country’s television networks do not provide close-captioned or signed broadcasts for the deaf. Few traffic signals emit an audible sound that would enable the blind to cross the street unassisted.
763. For children, access to schools is particularly important. According to the Planning and Building Law 1965 and the Planning and Building Regulations (Permit Application, Permit Terms and Fees) 1970, a permit will be denied for the construction of a public building that does not comply with regulations concerning access for the disabled. According to these regulations, in schools and other public structures, only one storey need be accessible to the disabled. As such, even when the law is implemented, it is difficult for disabled children to become integrated into schools - a fact often cited as the primary difficulty with mainstreaming.
764. An Israeli Supreme Court’s ruling dealt specifically with this issue ((Petition to the) High Court of Justice 7081/93 Botzer v. Maccabim-Reut Local Council , P.D. 50(1) 19). In this case, a wheelchair-bound youth suffering from multiple sclerosis petitioned the court to require his school to install an elevator, which would enable him to use the lavatory, which was not on the same floor as his classroom. The local authority had refused to install the elevator because of the high cost involved. The court found in favor of the youth, stating that legislation concerning the accessibility of public institutions had been passed to enable the disabled to become integrated into society; it ruled that the local authority must comply with the letter of the law, despite the considerable financial expense.
765. The accessibility of cultural and recreational facilities is also particularly crucial for disabled youth. As noted, there is evidence that many such facilities are inaccessible to children and youth with disabilities. According to the chairman of the Knesset culture and recreation sub-committee, thousands of children and youth with special needs are unable to join youth movements or participate in nature and sports activities. Nevertheless, according to the director of the culture and arts division of the Ministry of Education, the Ministry has no national plan or special budget for the disabled.
766. The report of the public commission on comprehensive legislation on the rights of persons with disabilities in Israel recommended that the right of the disabled to access to public spaces and services be grounded in law. It also recommended that this right be “translated” into detailed regulations that ensure the law’s implementation, and that implementation be effectively enforced. The commission also proposed that the initiation and development of cultural and recreational activities for the disabled become mandatory for the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Interior and the local authorities, and that preference be given to mainstreaming disabled children into activities for non-disabled children.
767. In recent years, JDC-Israel, in cooperation with the Association of Community Centers, has been implementing a program promoting accessibility, focused on public recreation sites and national parks and shrines. As a basis for this program, a comprehensive survey was conducted and a data base established on cultural, recreational and vacation sites for persons with impaired mobility. The data base covers nature reserves, holy sites, national parks, archaeological sites, museums, hotels and inns, and vacation and sports facilities. It contains important information about parking and entry, a site’s accessibility and suitability for people with impaired mobility, hearing or vision, the accessibility of public restrooms, and so forth. This information helps families of children with disabilities plan vacations and recreational activities. Despite the recent interest, the expansion of accessibility represents a major challenge that needs to be addressed.
Health and health services
(a) Mortality rates of women in childbirth, infant mortality and underweight births
770. The mortality rate for women in childbirth in Israel has declined steeply during the past 50 years. At present, it equals the rates for the most developed nations: 0.6-0.8 per 10,000 births, with no variance among sub-populations.
771. Progress in medical knowledge and technologies and changes in lifestyle and health behavior have caused infant mortality rates to drop significantly. If at the end of the 1970s Israel’s infant mortality rate was 18.7 deaths for every 1,000 live births, by 1998, it was 5.8 deaths for every 1,000 live births. However, there was variance among population sub-groups: 4.2 deaths for every 1,000 live births among Jews, 3.6 among Christians, 9.3 among Druze, and 8.7 among Moslems. It should be noted that the difference in the mortality rates of Jewish and Arab infants remains stable, despite the decline in overall infant mortality rates. Table 31 shows the gradual decline in infant mortality rates in Israel during the 1980s and 1990s.
772. The most prevalent causes of infant mortality are birth defects and perinatal complications. The mortality rate due to birth defects is higher among Arabs than Jews (3.6 per 1,000 births and 1.5 per 1,000 births, respectively, in 1993-1997). This is due, at least in part, to the higher incidence of such defects.
Infant mortality per 1,000 live births, by population group, 1979-1996
* It should be noted that the Druze and Christian Arab populations in Israel are small, and that there are significant fluctuations in infant mortality among these populations annually.
774. The Department of Health Service Studies at Tel Hashomer Hospital near Tel Aviv, which is a support unit of the Ministry of Health, is participating in an international study of the causes of infant deaths and ways to reduce them. Along with hospital pediatric wards, the department is also participating in a study of underweight newborn babies. The results of these studies will be used in designing health policy.
(b) Child mortality
775. In 1997, the child mortality rate in Israel was 0.4 per 1,000 children age one-four, 0.2 per 1,000 children ages five-14, and 0.6 per 1,000 children ages 15-19. Table 32 shows the causes of death for children age one-14 in 1996. Beginning at age one, accidents are a significant cause of child deaths.
Causes of death among children ages 1-14 in 1996, by population group (in %)
776. Data regarding the prevalence of infectious diseases are based on reports of the Ministry of Health. The data in Table 33 indicate a greater prevalence of some diseases among Jews. However, as the extent of reporting is not uniform (there are gaps in reporting in the Arab sector), the prevalence of infectious diseases among Arab children may actually be greater than is indicated by the data. In addition, as some diseases (such as measles) are epidemic, and break out every few years, it is difficult to identify trends in the prevalence of disease in recent years. It should be noted that almost every child in Israel has been inoculated against measles, rubella and tuberculosis.
Contagious and infectious diseases among children newborn to age 14 in 1996,
by age and population group (per 100,000 in each age group)
(i) Preventive care and control of epidemics
778. District health bureaus are responsible for the surveillance of sanitary conditions at institutions for children, and for preventing the outbreak of infectious diseases. If there is an outbreak of meningitis or hepatitis A, everyone who has come in contact with the patient receives free preventive treatment from the district health bureau.
779. By 1995, there were 83 cases of children with the HIV virus, who were born to HIV-positive parents in Israel; 11 of these children eventually contracted AIDS, and seven of them died. As of late 1998, there were 96 HIV-positive children in Israel. As can be seen in Table 34, there was no trend of increase in the rate of new cases identified during the 1990s.
New cases of AIDS among children newborn to age 14
(per 100,000 children) in Israel, by year
780. The Detection of the AIDS Virus in Minors Law 1996 allows a minor to undergo voluntary testing for HIV without the consent of his parent or guardian. The physician at the medical institution conducting the test must fully explain it and its implications to the minor, as well as how the disease is transmitted and methods of prevention, and must verify that the minor opposes seeking the consent of his parent or guardian. The physician must be convinced that, in light of the minor’s age, emotional maturity and ability to form an opinion, it is in the minor’s best interest to be tested without the consent of his parent or guardian. If the minor is under age 14, a team comprising a social worker and physician must consent to the test. If the test is negative, the results are given to him by a specially trained physician, nurse or social worker. If the test is positive - that is, if the minor is found to be carrying the AIDS virus - the results are reported to him by the above-noted team, in the presence of a welfare worker, who then asks if he wishes to inform his representative of the test results. If the minor refuses to inform his representative, he is given guidance and instruction about methods of treatment. The law requires that everyone involved in this process preserve the minor’s right to confidentiality.
781. The Israeli public has recently become more aware of the issue of injuries to children and youth due to accidents in the home, on the road and at school. A number of agencies provide information on accidental injuries to children. The Ministry of Health maintains a central data base on child hospitalizations. In 1997, the National Council for the Child initiated and funded ground-breaking research on the referral of children to emergency rooms, and their hospitalization following accidents. The goal of the study was to estimate the annual rate of referral of children and youth to hospital emergency rooms in Israel, and to identify risk groups. The study examined data on referrals in 1994 and, after weighting, estimated that the annual number of injuries from accident was 131,643, or 693 injuries per 10,000 children per year. The injury rate is higher among boys than girls, and among Jews than Arabs. The highest rate of injury from accident is among children newborn to age four. Traffic accidents are particular cause for concern: According to Israel police data, in 1998 some 7,200 children and youth - most of them passengers of vehicles or bicycle riders - were injured in traffic accidents. More than 6,000 of them were slightly injured, about 700 of them suffered severe injuries, and 76 were killed. The Ministry of Transportation and the Police Force conduct information campaigns in the media and schools to encourage traffic safety among children and youth, which stress the importance of wearing a helmet when riding a bicycle and not driving after drinking.
782. The Ministry of Health conducts administrative follow-up of accidents. A memorandum from the director-general of the Ministry stipulated that schools must report any injury occurring on school grounds or on the way to or from school. During the 1997/98 school year, 14,042 injuries were reported, representing 0.9% of all students. A survey conducted in 1994 and 1998 on the health and health behavior of youth covered the subject of accidents in depth. (This survey was part of the international Health Behavior in School-age Children (HBSC) survey project of the World Health Organization (WHO), which facilitated comparison of the health and risk behavior of school-age children from 23 countries. Israel’s participation in this international framework indicates its commitment to long-term, comprehensive monitoring of the health of children and youth.) It found that, as in other countries, a much greater number of injuries was reported by the youth in the survey than by the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Health. This may be explained in part by differences in methodology and criteria: Information was gathered from youth using anonymous self-reporting, and the HBSC survey covered injuries that were less serious than those that require hospitalization or reporting by the Ministry of Education. According to the findings of the 1998 HBSC survey, some 55% of the sixth and tenth grade students who were interviewed said they had received an injury requiring medical attention at least once during the 12 months prior to the survey; this was the highest rate among the 12 nations that included this index in their study. Nevertheless, the rate of serious injury was relatively low in Israel, compared to other countries. According to the researchers, this reflects relatively high rates of use of and accessibility to health services (e.g., school nurses) in Israel for slight injuries, compared to other countries.
783. An inter-ministerial, multidisciplinary work group is comparing HBSC data with data from the Ministries of Education and Health, with the aim of developing a national strategy to significantly reduce injuries among children and youth.
784. Accidents are a primary cause of death among children over the age of one year in Israel: In 1996, about 20% of all deaths of children ages one-four and 21% of all deaths of children age five-14 were caused by accidents. The most frequent causes of accidental death were traffic accidents, drownings, falls and traumatic injuries, suffocation, poisoning and burns.
785. The Interdisciplinary Center for Child Education, Health and Safety at the children’s hospital in central Israel conducts research, disseminates information, and makes policy recommendations aimed at reducing child injuries due to accident.
(e) Adolescent health behavior
786. In recent years, adolescent health has been the focus of much attention in Israel. In 1994, a survey was conducted by Bar-Ilan University and the JDC-Brookdale Institute in conjunction with the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education as part of the HBSC project (Harel et al., 1997). Its findings have been widely disseminated and discussed, and inform efforts to prevent injury and risk behavior among adolescents. This survey was based on the self-reports of some 8,000 Jewish students in grades six through 11. In 1998, a follow-up survey was conducted that included a similar number of Israeli Jewish and Arab youth in grades six through ten. Below we present a number of findings from these two surveys, and indicate the trends they revealed regarding the health habits of youth in Israel.
(i) Nutrition and physical exercise
787. Both surveys found that 90% of the youth in Israel eat fruits and vegetables at least once a day - the highest percentage among all of the participating countries. On the other hand, the proportion of youth in Israel who consume food and drink that is rich in sugar or fat was large, compared to that in other countries. The amount of physical exercise engaged in by Israeli youth was relatively low, although many youth reported participating in passive activities such as watching television and playing computer games. Many girls in Israel reported that they did not engage in any physical activity, although they did report dieting to lose weight at a higher rate than did girls in any other participating country; most of them did this without professional supervision.
(ii) Smoking, and alcohol and drug use
788. The rates of smoking among Israeli youth are lower than those among European youth. Nevertheless, 13% percent of the boys and 6% of the girls in 11th grade reported smoking at least once a week. Twenty-five percent of the boys and 13% of the girls in tenth grade reported smoking regularly. It was of particular concern that 8% of the boys and 2.5% of the girls reported smoking at least once a week by the sixth grade. These percentages were much higher among the Arab population, where 14% of the boys and 5% of the girls reported that they smoke. In addition, there is a trend of decline in the age at which adolescents begin smoking.
789. The percentage of students who reported drinking alcoholic beverages at least once a month was already high in the lower grades (36% of the boys and 20% of the girls). This percentage increases with age, so that by tenth grade, 46% of the boys and 24% of the girls reported drinking alcohol at least once a month. Seventeen percent of the boys and 6% of the girls reported drinking heavily (five or more alcoholic drinks within a few hours) during the past month, and similar percentages reported having been drunk at least once in the past. (It should be noted that these were the lowest rates found among all of the countries that participated in the survey.) The rates of drinking and the amounts of alcohol consumed were higher for boys of all ages than for girls, although this gap narrows as age increases. In comparison with other participating countries, students in Israel begin drinking alcohol at an earlier age. However, as age increases, the percentage of those who drink grows slowly, such that adolescents in Israel have one of the lowest drinking rates of adolescents in all of the participating countries.
790. The 1994 survey revealed that 10.5% of the tenth and 11th grade students in Israel’s State school system had used some type of illegal drug or pills during the past year (4.7% had smoked hashish or marijuana, 2.5% had taken L.S.D., 5.9% had taken speed or diet pills, 6.9% had taken sleeping pills or tranquilizers, 2.5% had used methadone, 2.8% had used opium, heroin, or “ black tar”, and 2.6% had used crack or cocaine). Some reported using the drug only once, while others reported wider use. For example, of those who reported using hashish, 33% said they had used it 25 times or more during the past year. The tendency to use drugs was found to be greater among students from a very good or a poor economic background, than among those from a middle-class economic background. The survey findings corroborate those of a national survey on the use of addictive substances conducted in 1998 by the Drug Prevention Authority, a government agency that designs policy and disseminates information concerning the prevention of drug abuse (Drug Prevention Authority, 2000). According to the 1998 survey, 9.8% of all youth in Israel reported using some drug during the past year, while 87% of them reported being unwilling to try any drug. Among youth who neither attend school nor work, 31.6% reported using some drug during the past year, while only 57% reported being unwilling to try any drug.
(iii) Sexual behavior and birth control
791. The 1994 survey also examined the sexual behavior of youth in Israel. It found that 20% of the students in the tenth and 11th grades had already engaged in sexual intercourse, close to half of them with more than one partner. This rate was low, relative to the United States, where 50% of the youth reported thus. The survey also examined the practice of safe sex. Forty-three percent of the boys and 20% of the girls who were sexually active reported that they did not use a condom the last time they had sexual intercourse; 13% of the boys and 16% of the girls reported that they used no birth control measures whatsoever the last time they had intercourse.
792. The number of teenage pregnancies in Israel is low. An international comparison of live births among girls ages 15-19 revealed that the rate of girls in this age group who give birth in Israel is among the lowest of the countries participating in the study - an average of 6.0 births per 1,000 girls between 1990 and 1995 (Ben-Arie and Zionit, 1999). In 1998, some 700 minors gave birth in Israel, most of them Arabs. There were no births among minors under the age of 15. It appears that most of the minors who give birth are age 17 or 18, at which point they are legally entitled to marry. Most of the girls who give birth at a younger age are also married. (For information on permission for pregnant minors to marry, see Chapter IV.) It should be noted that in 1997 more than 1,000 girls age 18 or under applied to committees to terminate a pregnancy; more than half of them were under the age of 16, and most of them were unmarried.
Live births among minors in 1998, by age, population group and marital status
* Includes cases where religion or marital status are not known.
793. The HBSC survey also examined the emotional well-being of youth. Nineteen percent of the youth reported that they were not at all happy - the highest rate of all participating countries. About one-fifth reported being very happy.
794. Eighteen percent of the youth reported experiencing emotional symptoms (anger, nervousness, a bad mood) almost every day, and 40% reported experiencing physical symptoms (headaches, stomach aches, backaches, dizziness) more than once a week. Moreover, about one-fifth reported having difficulty falling asleep almost daily, and 28% reported feeling sleepy in the morning on their way to school at least four times a week. Israel was ranked sixth of 28 countries for this index. Rates of some of the physical and emotional symptoms reported by Arab youth were high enough to be cause for alarm. For example, half of the Arab youth reported experiencing physical symptoms, and one-third of them reported experiencing emotional symptoms.
795. The 1994 survey examined suicidal thoughts and acts among tenth and 11th grade students. The findings reveal that a relatively large percentage (17%) of boys and girls had seriously contemplated suicide during the previous 12 months. Nine percent reported devising a plan to take their life during that period, and 6% reported actually attempting to take their life at least once. As this subject was not part of the international survey, it is not possible to compare Israeli youth to those in other countries.
796. In 1997, 15 teen suicides and 234 attempted suicides (30 girls, 190 boys, and the remaining genders unknown) were reported to the Ministry of Health. It is assumed that the actual totals were higher, as not every attempted suicide is identified and reported as such.
(f) Dental health
797. In a number of surveys conducted from the late 1980s to the early 1990s, it was found that the average number of teeth affected by tooth decay among children up to age seven ranged from 2.7 to 3.6; among children ages 12-13 it ranged from 1.9 to 3.0. This is recognized as a major area of concern. It should be noted that, in recent years, efforts to fluoridate Israel’s drinking water have increased; by 1996, 47% of Israel’s population resided in towns that had optimum levels of fluoride in their drinking water (Ministry of Health, 1997). It should be noted that there are no public dental insurance programs in Israel, although there are some subsidized clinics.
(g) Traditional customs that may affect a child’s health
798. Although no definite information exists on its prevalence, female circumcision is apparently an accepted practice among a number of Bedouin tribes in southern Israel. Recently, a bill was proposed to forbid female circumcision. Almost 100% of the country’s Jewish and Moslem newborn males are circumcised for religious reasons. Some Christian infants are circumcised for health reasons. Most circumcisions are conducted by ritual circumcisers, in some cases with medical supervision. Injuries to the child’s health due to circumcision are apparently rare. Nevertheless, there have been calls to raise the standards for licensing, training and supervising ritual circumcisers.
(a) The legal and organizational status of the health system in Israel
800. Health services in Israel are provided under the National Health Insurance Law, which was first implemented in 1995. However, the existing health system can trace its roots to the 1920s, well before the founding of the State in 1948.
801. Before National Health Insurance Law 1994, 97% of Israel’s population had health insurance coverage through one of four sick funds (Rosen, 1994). According to estimates, between 200,000 and 300,000 people (including 90,000 children) did not have health insurance, some because they could not afford it, and others because they preferred private insurance. Health services, as well as health insurance, were provided by Israel’s four sick funds, which were established prior to 1948. The services provided by the sick funds were financed by membership fees, payments by employers, and government subsidies. The Ministry of Health supervised the provision of services, and itself provided some of the country’s hospital, public health, preventive, mental health, and long-term care services.
802. The National Health Insurance Law stipulates that all of Israel’s residents are eligible for health services based on principles of justice, equality, and mutual assistance. The law mandated the provision of a basket of health services, which are largely provided by sick funds - non-profit corporations whose income is used to provide these services. The government finances health services, primarily through an earmarked, progressive tax paid by all residents. Nonetheless, non-payment or late payment does not exempt the sick funds from their obligation to provide health services. Sick funds are forbidden to reject applicants on the basis of age, health status or place of employment. The law further stipulates that health services must be provided while maintaining human dignity and the patient’s right to privacy and medical confidentiality. Residents age 18 and over must register themselves and their minor children with a sick fund of their choice. Sick funds receive payment from the government for each individual member, regardless of his family’s income. An age coefficient sets a higher rate of payment for preschool children and the elderly, who make greater use of health services. This was meant to give the sick funds an incentive to address the needs of large, low-income families, many of which are minorities.
803. Following public debate, the Knesset finance committee allowed sick funds to charge their members supplemental fees, so as to increase competition and curb the wasteful use of health services. People with low income are exempted from paying supplemental fees, although the exemption does not cover the entire low-income population - especially large families in which the head(s) of the household are employed. This arrangement gives the sick funds an incentive to serve populations that can afford to pay the supplemental fees. The implications of this for children have yet to be studied.
804. Studies conducted following the implementation of the National Health Insurance Law revealed that 40% of the respondents sensed an improvement in health services (Berg et al., 1996, 1998; Farfel et al., 1997). (A small proportion reported sensing a decline in health services, while the remainder sensed no change.) Arab respondents reported the most significant improvement, corroborating findings regarding the increased competition among sick funds in development towns and Arab towns and villages.
805. Under section 6a of the law, the basket of services must cover the following areas of health service:
2. Medical diagnosis
3. Ambulatory medical care, including psychiatric care, whether in a clinic, at home, or in an institution (e.g., old-age home, day care center)
4. Acute, psychiatric, and psycho-geriatric hospitalization, and chronic nursing care
5. Rehabilitation, including medical and psychological rehabilitation, physical, speech, and occupational therapy, and social work in the area of speech
7. Medical instruments and assistive devices
8. Preventive dental care for children up to an age specified by regulations
9. First aid and transportation to a hospital or clinic
10. Medical services at work
11. Medical and psychological care for addicts and alcoholics undergoing rehabilitation.
807. In 1995, Israel had 15.7 pediatric beds in general hospitals per 1,000 children age 14 and under (Ministry of Health, 1998). A number of years ago, a children’s hospital was established in central Israel; it also serves as a multi-regional center. Nevertheless, there was a decline in pediatric beds, hospital days, and the average length of hospital stay as a result of the system’s efforts to transfer pediatric care to clinics in the community. As part of this trend, sick funds have established child health centers, which are staffed by pediatricians, and various hospitals around the country have established special children’s centers to treat children at risk (e.g., the Child Welfare Unit at the B’nei Zion Hospital in Haifa). In addition, sick funds have established a system of after-hours emergency services in the community, which they hope will reduce public reliance on emergency rooms. Although this service is provided for a fee, children pay less than do adults.
(b) Preventive services
(i) Preventive services for young children
808. As noted elsewhere in this report, family health centers attend to the welfare of pregnant women and children from birth to age five, offering pre-natal examinations, inoculations, early detection of physical and emotional disabilities, health education, and counseling. In addition, they identify families that are unable to provide proper care for their children and refer them to the social welfare system. There are about 1,000 such centers throughout Israel, most of them under the purview of the Ministry of Health or the municipalities, and some under the purview of the sick funds. Family health centers are staffed by nurses, gynecologists and pediatricians. Most routine work is performed by the nurses, who have been trained in public health. One nursing position is budgeted for every 180 infants born annually in a center’s jurisdiction, such that nurses are responsible for pregnant women and a total of about 600 infants and young children newborn to age five. Service is universal and contingent upon payment of a health fee that covers part of the cost of the service. Parents who are unable to pay may obtain an exemption. Family health centers are located in and are a ccessible to the community. Most of the nurses become acquainted with the families during pregnancy and the early stages of child development. Families perceive these centers to be a source of support, and nearly the entire population uses them. It is estimated that 95% of all families of child rearing age visit a family health center from the beginning of pregnancy through a child’s first two years of life; the rates of use decline after a child has reached the age of two and a half.
809. Family health centers provide a pregnant woman with preventive care by monitoring her weight, blood pressure, urine, and blood count; screening for birth defects; and counseling her regarding nutrition, smoking, and preparation for birth and motherhood. Preventive care for the infant includes inoculations, nutrition counseling, testing and counseling concerning child development, identifying hearing and vision problems, and health education.
810. In 1997, between 92% and 95% of all two-year-old children received their four primary inoculations at a family health center. Since some children are under the care of a private clinic, it is assumed that the actual rate of inoculation is even higher. The rates of inoculation were similar among Jews and Arabs.
811. When developmental problems are suspected or identified by a center’s primary care physician or nurse, the children are referred to a center for child development. Centers for child development offer early diagnosis, counseling and care for children up to age five (and, in special cases, older children) who may have a developmental or functional disability. Their multi-professional staffs provide diagnostic and paramedical services, and sometimes support and training for parents. Children over age five who need care are usually referred to a special education or other medical framework.
(ii) Preventive programs for special populations
812. Programs for New Immigrants: From the beginning of the 1990s to the end of 1998, some 900,000 immigrants, about 230,000 of them children, arrived in Israel from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia. A number of special programs were developed for these immigrants. Health programs for women and elderly people from the former Soviet Union were prepared in Russian, and family planning clinics were provided with additional, Russian-speaking staff.
813. A significant number of Ethiopian immigrants arrived in the 1980s, and an additional group of immigrants from Ethiopia arrived in 1992. In all, there are some 70,000 Ethiopian immigrants now in Israel, approximately 60% of them under age 18. As most of this population came from rural areas in Ethiopia, special effort was required to acquaint them with the Israeli health system and teach them health habits suited to their new environment. This effort was stepped up in the 1990s on the initiative of the Ministry of Health and JDC-Israel, which developed a number of programs that were operated through district health bureaus and family health centers. Outreach to the Ethiopian immigrant community using “facilitators” fluent in Amharic and familiar with culturally sensitive terminology that the immigrants could understand emphasized preventive services for pregnant women and children. Health education programs are now being implemented by skilled individuals from the Ethiopian community who have been in Israel for a decade, speak both Hebrew and Amharic, and understand Ethiopian culture. These programs increase the response rate to inoculations and preventive care, and are changing health behaviors (e.g., improving nutrition, preventing home accidents), especially among children.
814. As the proportion of people with the AIDS virus is relatively high among Ethiopian immigrants, efforts have been made to prevent contagion within the community and to treat those who are HIV-positive. Educational materials have been prepared in Amharic, and Ethiopian immigrants have been trained to instruct youth and adults. In 1997, the decision was made to use “ facilitators” from the Ethiopian immigrant community to make contact with Ethiopian immigrants who have AIDS or are HIV-positive; the facilitators help these patients communicate with the professional staff at AIDS treatment centers and teach them how to keep from spreading the disease. In addition, funds have been invested in a health education program on AIDS used in schools and the army, and seminars on Ethiopian culture that are meant to help teachers, social workers, physicians and nurses serve this population more effectively.
815. Programs for Bedouin: Special programs have been developed for the Bedouin population, the majority of which resides in the south of Israel. One noteworthy project is an educational program sponsored by the Ministry of Health, which aims to reduce the birth rate among very young women and to reduce infant mortality among risk groups. The project attempts to increase awareness of the dangers inherent in intra-family marriage (which is prevalent in this population), the need to monitor pregnancies, and the need to inoculate children.
(iii) Additional programs
816. Health education programs on preventing accidents in the home, at school and on the roads are conducted at family health centers. In addition, some of the centers offer enrichment programs, programs to improve children’s cognitive development, and parenthood preparatory programs, in cooperation with social welfare services. Special programs designed to increase the centers’ effectiveness in their work with families and children at risk are presently being implemented nationwide.
(iv) Promotion of breastfeeding
817. The State of Israel is a cosignatory of the 1990 WHO- and UNICEF-sponsored “Innocenti Declaration”, whose aim is to promote breastfeeding. In compliance with the declaration, Israel has placed limits on advertisements for and efforts to market baby formula in maternity wards, although these are apparently not strictly enforced. Between 1994 and 1996, the Department for the Mother and Child of the Ministry of Health conducted a comprehensive survey of hospital support for breastfeeding. The survey revealed that only eight of the 29 hospitals exceeded the international average score for following the recommendations of the Innocenti Declaration. On the other hand, the survey found that two-thirds of the mothers were allowed to hold their babies immediately after birth. All of the hospitals reported having informational material on breastfeeding, though it was not of uniform quality and contained inaccuracies. Also, hospital counseling and instruction for mothers was found to be ineffective. An independent association at the Interdisciplinary Center for Child Education, Health and Safety at the children’s hospital in central Israel is working to improve the situation by preparing a kit for nurses with the latest information on breastfeeding. Also, a WHO course on breastfeeding has been approved and will be taught to public health nurses. A special committee at the Ministry of Health is formulating a change of policy on breastfeeding. The Ministry is also working to ensure that there is a salaried breastfeeding counselor in every hospital.
818. In 1998, the National Commission on Child Medicine, which operates within the Ministry of Health and examines policy concerning children’s health, established the committee for the promotion of breastfeeding, whose goal is to encourage breastfeeding, in part by creating conditions that will make it easier for mothers to breastfeed their children (e.g., longer maternity leave, private rooms in work places where mothers can pump milk, etc.).
(v) Preventive services for school children
819. Health services for elementary and secondary school students in Israel are financed by the State. The Supreme Court has ruled that the State may hire contractors through public tenders to provide these services.
820. Health services are provided in elementary schools by public health nurses and physicians. Officially, one public health nurse is employed for every 1,800 students, and one physician for every 6,000 students. In elementary schools, the nurses conduct routine examinations, such as testing vision and hearing and measuring height; give inoculations; and teach nutrition, personal hygiene, and sex education. Although the Ministries of Education and Health stipulate that health education lessons be held weekly, a shortage of nurses impedes this.
821. The health services provided in secondary schools are primarily educational and focus on preventing drug and alcohol addiction and communicable diseases such as AIDS, and on safety and accident prevention.
822. Despite government financing, parents are charged a fee for dental health services. There are reports, however, that local authorities with populations of limited means and little awareness of the importance of preventive dentistry find it difficult to collect this fee; consequently, services are not provided.
823. In addition to the health services provided at schools, preventive services are offered to adolescents through specialty service centers, which are financed by the Ministry of Health, social welfare agencies, and Clalit Health Services. These centers specialize in adolescent health and provide sex education, medical testing, and treatment of problems that arise during adolescence, such as acne and weight problems.
824. In recent years, youth counseling centers have been established throughout the country to provide youth with instruction, counseling and referral in a variety of areas, including health.
(c) Psychiatric services
825. Psychiatric services, including diagnosis, counseling, psychotherapy and parental guidance, are provided by mental health clinics for the child and adolescent, or by hospital outpatient clinics serving special areas. The clinics usually operate free of charge or charge a nominal fee. Nevertheless, professionals have noted serious gaps between available psychiatric services and the needs of the community. Moreover, it has been an issue of some debate that existing clinics primarily serve middle class families, and are unavailable to those who truly need them or are in distress. This is primarily because these clinics do not reach more problematic populations, including families that do not cooperate or that have multiple problems. In recent years, the Ministry of Health has made an effort to improve psychiatric services for children and youth. For example, it has established two child psychiatric centers in two cities in the south, to remedy the lack of services in this region. This represented a commitment to inter-organizational cooperation, as well as to work with at-risk and distressed populations.
826. Every year, a small number of children are hospitalized in special wards at psychiatric hospitals (in 1998, 230 children were admitted to psychiatric hospitals). In recent years, following criticism over the unnecessary hospitalization of youth and the lack of alternative frameworks, health and social welfare services have begun to cooperate in establishing out-of-home frameworks as an alternative to hospitalization.
(d) The accessibility of services
827. The physical accessibility of services is expressed in data on the geographic distribution of physicians in Israel, which greatly corresponds with the distribution of hospital beds and medical infrastructure in general. Data from the Central Bureau of Statistics reveal that the north and south of the country have a smaller number of physicians per 100,000 population, and that children newborn to age four in these regions visit physicians less frequently than do their peers elsewhere in the country. The findings of an analysis conducted in 1996 support the assumption that the number of physician visits is related to the availability of services, and that these two variables are linked to income or the socio-economic status of a given town or region.
Distribution of physicians and number of physician visits by children
newborn-age 4 in 1993, by area of residence
828. Data from the early 1990s reveal gaps between health services in the Jewish and Arab sectors, for indices such as the number of physicians per 100,000 population and the level of services. However, it should be noted that since 1993, the Ministry of Health has earmarked funds for the construction of new family health centers in Arab towns and villages, and for “closing the gap with the Arab sector” in preventive care. As noted, one of the main implications of the National Health Insurance Law was an increase in the incentive to provide services to low-income populations; a survey of sick fund members on the improvement of services since implementation of the National Health Insurance Law found the greatest level of improvement reported by the Arab population.
829. One group with particular problems gaining access to medical services is that of the Bedouin who reside in villages that are not recognized by the government. Only four clinics serve the nearly 50,000 people who reside in these villages. Not one of the villages - one-quarter of whose population are children age four or less - has a family health center. Under contract to the Ministry of Health, the Galilee Society - The Arab National Society for Health Research and Services has been operating a mobile clinic in these villages; however, the Ministry of Health has not approved extension of the contract. In response, a petition has been filed with the Supreme Court, in its role as a high court of justice, to force the State to construct permanent clinics. The Ministry of Health has countered that 84% of the infants in these villages receive preventive medical care, and that residents can receive services at centers located six kilometers away. The Ministry further responded that because the villages are illegal, it is under no obligation to provide services within their boundaries, and that the residents therefore have no legal basis to claim discrimination. The Supreme Court justices refused to accept the claim that children need not be provided with preventive medical services merely because they reside in unrecognized settlements. Following the court’s decision, the Ministry of Health agreed to construct six family health centers in these villages; however, this has yet to be done. The Ministry of Infrastructure has begun efforts to find a comprehensive solution to the problems of these villages, which will presumably also solve the problem of provision of health services.
830. An additional problem in implementing the National Health Insurance Law concerns the children of residents of East Jerusalem (whose population is Arab). The 1997 report of the Ombudsman for the National Health Insurance Law lodges a number of complaints concerning children, especially in cases where one parent resides in East Jerusalem and the other in territories controlled by the Palestinian Authority. While the National Health Insurance Law covers all residents of the Israel, approval of residency by the National Insurance Institute can take time (an average of 59 days, according to the ombudsman’s report); in the interim, the child does not receive health services. It is the opinion of the ombudsman that the sick funds must provide health care during this period, particularly for children, and especially if failure to provide health services endangers the child’s life. It should be noted that in 1997, the ombudsman’s office intervened in a number of cases in which children’s lives were endangered due to a lack of medical care; ultimately, care was provided free of charge. The ombudsman favors the long-term solution proposed by the head of the Ministry of Health’s Division of General Medicine, according to which a child born to a mother who resides in East Jerusalem and a father who resides in an area controlled by the Palestinian Authority will automatically be eligible for all services provided by the mother’s sick fund, including preventive services, until his residency is approved by the National Insurance Institute. In response to a petition by several civil rights organizations, the Supreme Court recently instructed the National Insurance Institute to make administrative arrangements that will enable the children of such parents to receive medical care from birth.
831. In recent years, a great many foreign workers have come to Israel. Some of them live and work in Israel legally, while others do not. It is estimated that they have a total of between 2,500 and 3,000 children, who live with them in Israel. The National Health Insurance Law does not cover these workers or their children, regardless of whether they are in the country legally or illegally. Some workers are insured by their employer, through a commercial insurance agency. Many of their children have no health insurance whatsoever; medical care exclusive of emergency treatment is usually provided for fees that the workers cannot pay. Family health centers provide preventive treatment to foreign workers who are mothers, and their children. In Tel Aviv, where most of the foreign workers reside, Physicians for Human Rights has established the country’s first clinic for foreign workers. Family physicians, pediatricians and general practitioners, as well as hospital and sick fund nurses, volunteer their time at this clinic, which is open three days a week and offers low-cost primary medical care to legal and illegal foreign workers.
832. Human rights organizations, including the National Council for the Child, Physicians for Human Rights, and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, have asked the Minister of Health to use his discretionary power to extend national health insurance coverage to the children of all foreign workers. They believe the Minister should declare that the rights accorded by law extend to all children born in Israel, for as long as the child resides in the country, regardless of his parents’ status, as well as to any child who stays in Israel longer than three months.
833. In July 2000, the Foreign Workers’ Law took effect. Under this law, the Minister of Health must define a basket of services that insurance companies will be required to provide foreign workers. Guidelines for defining the basket have yet to be formulated. A contractor has been chosen to provide health care to the children of foreign workers. A Knesset committee is monitoring the provision of health care to foreign workers and their children, and will determine if additional steps need to be taken.
(a) Water quality
835. Virtually every home (99.8%) in Israel is connected to the country’s central water network. Great effort is invested in preventing water contamination, with monitoring that includes routine examinations for salinity and chemicals according to standards recommended by the WHO. In recent years there has been a downward trend in the percentage of bacterially contaminated drinking water samples, from 7.6% of all samples in 1990 to 2.3% in 1995 (Ministry of Health, 1998b).
836. The individual dwellings of the 50,000 Bedouin who reside in unrecognized settlements are not connected to the water system. Every Bedouin encampment that requests water is linked to the national network; residents pump water from central holding tanks and bring it home by automobile or camel, or on foot. The following steps are taken to avoid water contamination in this region:
(b) Air pollution
838. Awareness in Israel is increasing of the harmful effect that the release of pollutants into the air has on health, especially that of children. The level of air pollution is not uniform nationwide: Between 1986 and 1993, a number of geographic areas were found to have exceptionally high levels of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, ozone and ash. In 1994, new national policy regarding air quality was introduced, including the legislation and enforcement of air quality standards, continuous monitoring of air quality, and a reduction in sources of pollution. As of 1994, 63 monitoring stations were in operation; however, this was not sufficient basis for a national air pollution program. Consequently, Israel is formulating plans for 50 additional monitoring stations and a central data base (Ministry of Health, 1998b).
840. While ethical guidelines issued by the Israel Medical Association cover all human beings who require medical care, including children, they also specifically address children. Section 32 of the guidelines stipulates that, in an emergency, a physician must provide medical care to a minor even without the express permission of his parent or guardian, and must consider the minor’s opinion if he is able to express it. Section 33 of the guidelines requires a physician to consult with the authorities, and in exceptional circumstances to use his own judgment even if he cannot consult with the authorities, if a parent or guardian refuses to allow a minor to receive treatment and the physician is convinced that non-treatment will endanger the minor’s life.
841. The Israel Medical Association helped draft a proposed declaration on the rights of the child patient, which was sent to the World Medical Union. The declaration, based on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, emphasizes a child’s right to life and health, and respect for his views regarding medical procedures.
843. This section will examine the degree to which children in Israel benefit from the right to social security, while taking into consideration the situation of the child and that of the people who are responsible for his livelihood, according to article 26 of the Convention. In this section,
845. Social security payments are collected from salaried employees, from employers, from the self-employed, and from those who are not employed. The government also participates in some branches of insurance and finances in full the benefits that are paid not under the National Insurance Law, for which social security payments are not collected.
846. In 1999, collection from the public for the various branches of social security was 4.5% of the Gross Local Product. During that year, the primary branch of the National Insurance Institute was that of aging and surviving relatives (34% of the Institute’s payments were to recipients of old age and survivors’ benefits). Children’s allowances were second in size, reaching 18.8% of all benefit payments in that year. (All of the data in this section were taken from the National Insurance Institute Statistical Annual, 1999.)
848. Most benefits are paid independent of income on a universal basis. This is for fear of the disturbance of social solidarity caused when the entire population makes social security payments, but only some of the population receive benefits; the affront to dignity caused when social security, health and welfare services are limited to the poor only; and the fear that the necessity of meeting an income test in order to be eligible for benefits will prevent the weaker strata of society, which are most in need of benefits, from realizing their right to them.
(a) Benefits directly related to children
849. Children’s allowance: The children’s allowance is a monthly allowance paid to a family according to the number of children in it. The allowance is determined according to benefit points assigned per child. At the end of 2000, a law was passed that increased the number of benefit points per child for families with four or more children, beginning with the fourth child. This change has aroused much public debate. Since 1987, the benefit points have been updated for the full increase in the Price Index at the beginning of every year (January) and whenever a cost of living increase is paid to all of the employees in the market. In order to ease the burden on families, the hospital automatically informs the National Insurance Institute of every birth; payment of the children’s allowance is transferred to the mother’s bank account. Since close to 100% of the mothers in Israel give birth in the hospital, this mechanism ensures maximum fulfillment of the right to the benefit. In 1999, about 890,000 families received children’s allowances every month, for 2,000,000 children.
850. Disabled child allowance: This allowance is intended for families that care for a disabled child, to ease the burden of personal and nursing care. The levels of the allowance are determined by the child’s level of dependence on his parents in order to function, the child’s age, school attendance/education, and the type of illness or disability from which he suffers. About 14,100 children received this benefit in 1999. (See the section on children with disabilities, above.)
851. Maternity insurance. As part of maternity insurance, women who have given birth are entitled to the following benefits:
(b) Maternity benefit - this benefit is paid for 20 months to families in which three or more children are born during one birth (that is, triplets or more), in order to help the family cope with economic hardship. The mother is eligible for a monthly maternity benefit for nine months;
(c) Equipment grant - this grant is intended to cover initial equipment for the baby, and is paid directly to the mother. The grant is 20% of the average wage. When two or more children are born during one birth and remain alive for a period of time determined by law, the equipment grant is higher: for twins, 100% of the average market wage, and for each additional child, 50% of this wage;
(d) Maternity leave allowance - this is an income replacement allowance. It is meant to compensate the working mother for the loss of wages during her maternity leave, which she is required to take under the Employment of Women Law. Women who are eligible for this allowance are mothers who work for a salary, who are self-employed, or who are undergoing vocational training and for whom, during the period prior to the birth, social security payments were made for periods of time determined by law. The maternity leave allowance is paid for six or 12 weeks, depending upon the length of time a woman paid into social security prior to taking maternity leave. As of October 1994, maternity leave allowances were 75% of a mother’s average daily wage during the three months that preceded her cessation of work. Since November 1994, the maternity leave allowance has been paid according to 100% of a mother’s average daily wage during the three months that preceded her cessation of work, minus income tax, social security and health tax payments. As a result, the real level of the average maternity leave allowance per day in 1995 was 53% higher than it was in 1994;
(e) Pregnancy benefit - this is an income replacement benefit, which is intended to support employed women who for reasons related to their pregnancy are forced to cease working for 30 days or more and for whom no social security payment is being made by their employer or any other agent. The rate of the benefit is the woman’s average wage during the three months that preceded her cessation of work.
(b) Benefits for eligible persons and their dependents
853. Unemployment benefits. Unemployment insurance grants eligibility for unemployment benefits to people who worked for a minimum of six months during the year that preceded their unemployment, or for a year and a half prior to their unemployment. Claimants are eligible to receive unemployment benefits for a maximum of 138 days, or 175 days if they are age 45 and over or have at least three dependents. The amount paid per day is calculated at rates determined by law on the basis of the average daily wage of the beneficiary during his last 75 days of employment.
854. In 1998, about 112,000 children lived in families in which at least one of the parents received unemployment benefits. These children represent 5.4% of all of the children in Israel. In recent years, there has been an increase in the percentage of children who live in families that receive unemployment benefits.
855. Work injury benefits. Work injury benefits grant an individual who has been injured on the job the right to receive benefits based on the outcome of the injury. Also in this framework, a benefit is paid to relatives of people who were killed on the job, if those relatives were dependent on the deceased for their income. The full amount of this dependents’ benefit is 75% of the deceased’s salary. The partial amount of this benefit depends on the number of dependents: A widow with three children is eligible for the full benefit.
856. General disability pension. The disability pension is paid to individuals who as a result of a physical, mental or emotional disability can not and do not earn a salary that exceeds 25% of the average wage. A supplement of 10% is provided for each of the two first children.
857. Survivors’ pension. This pension is paid to survivors of individuals who have died. The rate of the pension is paid as a fixed percentage of the average wage, according to the composition of the family: A widow or widower with one child receives 16% of the wage; an additional 7.5% is paid for each additional child. A child who does not have parents, or whose living parent does not live in Israel, receives 10% of the wage. If both of his parents have died, the child is eligible to receive two survivors’ pensions. In addition, living expenses are paid at a rate of between 6.5% and 9% of the average wage to orphans who spend the majority of their time in secondary school or vocational training.
858. Income maintenance. Income maintenance is intended to be a safety net for individuals and families whose level of income, with or without the other income replacement benefits, does not enable them to maintain a minimal level of existence. This benefit is provided under the Assurance of Income Law 1980. Among those eligible for the benefit are families with no wage earner, and families whose wage-earners work for low wages. Eligibility for the benefit is conditional on both a means test and an employment test: Recipients of the benefit are required to make an effort to become integrated into the work force. Only women with young children (under age 7) are exempt from the employment test. Pregnant minors and orphaned or neglected children are also eligible for this benefit. The benefit rate is dependent on family size and composition. The maximum benefit - paid to a widow(er) with at least two children - is equivalent to 52.5% of the average wage.
859. In 1998, 190,488 children (9.2% of all of the children in Israel) lived in families that received an income support benefit. Forty-eight percent of these children lived in families that received this benefit because they had no wage earner. About 21% of them lived in families that received this benefit because of low wages. Between 1990 and 1998, there was an increase of 133% in the number of children living in families that receive income support benefits, which is explained primarily by the mass immigration during this period.
860. Alimony insurance. The Maintenance (Assurance of Payment) Law 1972 ensures payment to women who are divorced, separated or in other circumstances, and to whom the court has awarded alimony but who are not receiving said alimony because the individual required by law to pay it is not fulfilling his obligation. A child is also eligible for this benefit if an alimony ruling has been made in his favor and he is not in the custody of his mother, and his maintenance is not being paid by the State or a local authority. The rate of payment is determined as in the alimony ruling, but is not to exceed the amount set in the regulations. The rate of alimony payments set in the regulations is equivalent to the rate of the income support benefit for widows, depending on the number of children in her custody.
(c) International conventions
861. Israel is a party to multilateral international conventions with most of the European countries, which ensure the payment to residents of those countries who migrate from one country to another, and in some cases to stateless refugees. In addition, Israel has signed a multilateral convention on the preservation of the right to benefits of migrants, and a multilateral convention on the legal equality of citizens and non-citizens in social security.
(a) Elimination of the means test for the children’s allowance
863. In 1985, the decision was made that families with up to three children whose level of income was above a certain threshold would not receive a benefit for their first child, and in 1990, the decision was made to eliminate this benefit for the second child, as well. In 1993, the payment of the benefit to all small families was renewed, without a means test. As a consequence, in that year the number of families and children who received such benefits increased by 50%.
(b) Equalizing the children’s allowance for people who did not serve in the army
864. In the past, a supplement to the children’s allowance was paid to families in which at least one member had served in the army. The “eligibility points” provided for the fourth child and additional children thereafter were higher for families in which at least one member had served in the army. Since most of the Arab population is exempt from military service, the benefits that were paid to that population were lower than those paid to the Jewish population. In addition, the families of new immigrants, some of which (especially those from Ethiopia) had many children, also did not benefit from the supplement.
865. In January 1994, a process was begun of unifying the children’s benefits for all families that receive them, unconditional upon military service. This change, which was completed in 1997, equated the level of the benefit for all families, by increasing the level of the benefit paid to about 100,000 families with three or more children (for example, a family with four children now receives a benefit that is 60% larger than in the past).
(c) Benefits to low income groups
866. In recent years, legislative efforts have been made to reduce the extent of poverty among children by increasing selected benefits. Following the Reduction of Poverty and Income Disparity Law 1997, and the Reduction of Poverty (Supplementary Measures) Law 1995, benefit points were increased for the fourth, fifth and sixth child in a family, and supplements were increased for the first and second child in about 50,000 “special” families (e.g., in which someone was disabled, the woman was receiving alimony, there was only one parent). In addition, payment of the supplement for a child, which is granted to recipients of the survivor’s pension, was expanded to each child (without limitation on their number), and disability benefits were increased for approximately 90,000 families of disabled persons. Finally, the level of benefits paid to single-parent families in which the parent is not defined as being the sole parent (e.g., women who are separated, or who have been abandoned, or whose husbands are in prison) were brought up to the increased rate, such that almost all (de jure and de facto) single-parent families became eligible for an income supplement at the increased rate. As a result, about 3,000 single-parent families benefited from a supplement to their benefit of up to 50%.
867. As noted, the children’s allowance is paid on the basis of “ eligibility points”, which are allocated to each child in a family. The greater the number of children in a family, the more “eligibility points” the family receives, both because of the large number of children and because of the larger number of “eligibility points” allocated to each successive child, beginning with the third child. One of the main problems with the children’s allowance is its inability to maintain its value over time, relative to market wages, as it is linked to the Consumer Price Index and not to the average market wage, like the other benefits. Thus, its ability to maintain a given relative income standard has declined very significantly. According to data from the National Insurance Institute, in 1975 the value of an eligibility point was 4.4% of the average wage, while in 1990 it was worth 3.0% of the market wage, and by 1997 it was worth only 2.7% of the market wage.
868. The system of ensuring a reasonable standard of living for employees (including employees with children) is the minimum wage, which was instituted in Israel by the Minimum Wage Law 1987. The rate of the minimum wage is presently 47.5% of the average market wage. However, this law has not been sufficiently enforced, and there are many employees who earn less than is stipulated by the law.
(b) Tax breaks
869. The tax system in Israel is progressive. In addition, the tax system provides discounts, dispensations, and tax breaks to working women, single-parent families, and so on.
872. Poverty, as a rule, and among children in particular, is increasingly recognized in Israel as a social problem that must be addressed. Data on poverty in Israel have been collected and published since the 1970s by the National Insurance Institute. An annual report on the state of poverty is presented to the government and garners extensive media coverage. Since the 1970s, Israel has adopted a relative definition of poverty that reflects the general standard of living. According to this definition, a family is considered poor when its living conditions (as reflected in family income) are significantly inferior to the accepted living conditions of a society. Poverty is measured on the basis of income; the means used to measure poverty do not take into consideration a family’s other financial resources or in-kind services provided by the State or other agencies. The “poverty line” is defined in Israel as being 50% of the median net income per “ standard” capita, based on a scale that matches income to family size, so as to facilitate comparison of the standard of living of families of different sizes. (For example, according to this scale, two individuals are equal to two standard individuals, three individuals are equal to 2.65 standard individuals, and seven individuals are equal to 4.75 standard individuals.) A family in Israel is considered poor when its income, divided among the number of “standard” individuals in that family, is below the poverty line for a standard individual. Thus, for example, the poverty line for a family of four is 62% of the median wage; a family of eight will be defined as living below the poverty line if its available income is 100.7% of the median wage.
873. Measures of poverty are calculated based on ann