Israel Waging War on Child Poverty, Knesset Member Says in Wake of UNICEF Report Poorly Grading Jewish State (INTERVIEW)
Israel is waging a battle against child poverty, an Israeli parliamentarian told The Algemeiner this week.
Kulanu Party MK Yifat Shasha-Biton, who heads the Knesset Committee on Children’s Rights, said, “It’s no secret that Israel has high rates of poverty among haredi [ultra-Orthodox Jews] and Arab families, due to demographic and work-culture variables, which is why we are providing support for those families — not just to children — out of the understanding that poverty often begins with them. If they don’t have food on the table, their children won’t either.”
She was responding to a United Nation’s Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) report, released in April, which ranked Israel as having a higher rate of child socioeconomic inequality than 40 other of the world’s developed countries in the European Union and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
According to the “Fairness for Children” report, Israel’s child-poverty rate is higher even than that of Mexico, Bulgaria and Chile; its income-inequality, too, scored high, while its quality of education ranked low, with a large number of 15-year-old students ranking below-average proficiency in reading, math and science.
Shasha-Biton told The Algemeiner about the steps the Israeli government — and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon (the head of her party) in particular — is taking to tackle these problems. “We have been making efforts to integrate haredi and Arab women into the workplace,” she said. “More and more of these women are attending universities and participating in the economy.”
Where fighting poverty is concerned, she said that, in the last year alone, the government raised child allowances and soldiers’ salaries, and created savings plans for children, by allocating NIS 7 billion ($1.8 billion) for such measures. In addition, she said, “I have asked each ministry to submit a plan for reducing child poverty, which I will incorporate into the recommendations of our committee.”
Shasha-Biton is also promoting the Daycare Center Bill, which “seeks to redefine the education system to include better conditions for children aged 0-3”; advocating for increased technological education; creating “a national plan for children’s safety to deal with the sexual abuse of minors — from the detection stage, to the treatment stage and subsequently during the process of taking legal action against perpetrators”; examining school curricula; and “protecting children from harmful content found in the media and elsewhere.”
“We are confident that future reports covering the upcoming years, after all our positive implementations, will show different data and reveal more optimistic statistics,” Shasha-Biton said. “The prime minister and minister of finance are both working hard to make sure all of Israel’s populations will lead a better life, including children. The main economic objective that the government has set at the top of its priorities is narrowing the gaps and dealing with poverty.”