Hundreds demonstrated around the country Sunday night to demand supervision of private day care centers, following allegations against preschool teacher Carmel Mauda, who was indicted for abusing children in the center she ran out of her home in Rosh Ha’ayin.
Police closed traffic on major arteries, including the Azrieli junction, for several hours due to a large demonstration at the Sarona compound in Tel Aviv. Demonstrators carried signs reading, “Blows and threats aren’t child’s play,” and “What happens when the door is closed?” They also called out, “The people demand justice for children.”
Some 400 people demonstrated in Haifa and in Kiryat Motzkin and some 200 in Be’er Sheva, prompting police to block main streets in several of those cities. There were also demonstrations in Ashkelon, Kiryat Gat and in Jerusalem, next to the Prime Minister’s Residence.
Mauda was indicted Sunday on 18 counts of abusing children at the Baby Love day care center she ran. She has been charged with abusing 11 children between three months and three years old between May 27 and June 16.
According to the indictment, she beat them, tied some of them to chairs and forced at least one to eat food he had just thrown up.
“The time has come for supervision of children from newborn to three years old,” said social activist Maya Simon, who came to demonstrate in Tel Aviv. Simon, who been running a day care center in Kiryat Ono for about five years, bemoaned the distress of many day care centers, where there aren’t enough staff and the pay is low.
“There are two teachers for every 18 children. People don’t want to work in this profession,” she said, noting that day care assistants get 35 shekels (less than $10) an hour. “That the prime minister said there will be cameras in the preschools isn’t enough. Something must be done,” Simon said, calling for the education minister to make this a top priority.
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Another demonstrator, Hagit, from Netanya, said that she thinks there have to be cameras in all the country’s preschools. “I would want to be the fly on the wall. I understand from the staff that there are problems, but this involves our personal security. I felt it was a moral obligation to be here,” she said.
Mauda will remain in custody unless and until the court decides otherwise. The defense has requested that the next hearing be postponed until July 25 to provide time to review and respond to the indictment.
Prosecutor Iris Picker-Segal, who presented the indictment to the Central District Court in Lod, noted that the crime of abusing the helpless carries a nine-year sentence for each count. She said the danger Mauda poses requires her to remain in custody, “considering the fact that she harmed toddlers and babies.”
Mauda “exploited the trust of parents who put the most precious thing of all to them in her hands,” Picker-Segal added.
The police received complaints about the abuse on June 19 and arrested Mauda two days later. Later they confiscated security camera footage showing some of the abuse.
In one of the recordings, which is eight minutes long, Mauda is seen sitting on top of a boy and choking him. In another incident, she slams a seated child’s chair into the table, crushing his stomach between the two pieces of furniture. In other recordings, Mauda is seen forcing the children to stand silently for four hours, whipping them with a towel and forcing a boy to eat his vomit.
The indictment says Mauda confirmed that she was the caregiver shown in the footage. In addition, police found an eyewitness to one act of abuse not captured on camera.
Mauda’s assistant was also arrested on suspicion of involvement, and was then released to house arrest. Her interrogation revealed that she both witnessed Mauda’s abuse and committed abusive acts against the children herself.
Mauda’s parents were questioned by the police as suspects in the crime as well. They were then released from custody.
“I’m furious,” said Einav, the mother of one of the children mentioned in the indictment. “I expect the other people involved to be indicted as well. You can see them in the footage. You can see how they cover up my daughter and that monster sits on her, and the assistant enters and says ‘well, I’m going home.’”
Erez, whose son also went to Mauda’s day care center, demanded that the government increase its supervision of the industry. “We want them to install cameras, lay down criteria for the centers and the staff, do psychological evaluations every year and change the penalties,” he said.
On Saturday, around 50 people demonstrated outside Neveh Tirza Prison, where Mauda is being held. They demanded that Mauda’s family be charged as well, on the grounds that they were aware of the abuse but didn’t report it.
Also, on Saturday, Mauda’s home in Rosh Ha’ayin was set ablaze. Police have arrested an 18-year-old suspect in the suspected arson.
On Sunday, the Petah Tikva Magistrate’s Court ordered him held in custody for another four days. The suspect, whose name is under a gag order, denied any connection to the arson.Members of Mauda’s family, who were home when the fire occurred, blamed incitement on social media and in the mainstream media for inflaming public sentiment against them.