Teenage Suicide Attempts in Israel Soar, Child’s Group Reports

Vast majority of hundreds of minors admitted to emergency rooms last year were girls, as one out of every three child lives under poverty line

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Youths in the cafeteria of a boarding school for children at risk in Netanya, March 29, 2017.
Youths in the cafeteria of a boarding school for children at risk in Netanya, March 29, 2017.Credit: Moti Milrod

The number of children under the age of 14 who tried to commit suicide has gone up 40 percent over the past decade, according to a report issued Tuesday by the Israel National Council for the Child.

The report said that 306 children younger than 14 tried to take their own lives last year. All told last year 773 minors were admitted to emergency rooms last year after attempting suicide; 608 of them were girls.

The report also said that 880,000 children and teens were living below the poverty line in 2016 – one out of every three children. In the ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) and Arab communities, 60 percent of children were living in poverty, while in the overall Jewish community the ratio is 20 percent.

The number of minors known to the welfare authorities has risen by 20,000 in 17 years, from 418,000 in 2000 to 438,000 at the start of 2016. Three percent of the minors known to the authorities are foreign born, higher than their percentage of the population of minors.

The number of children at risk has doubled since 2000 to 367,000. The most common reasons for being classified at risk are neglect (31 percent); physical abuse (28 percent) and sexual abuse (12 percent). In 73 percent of the cases, the source of the risk came from within the family.

According to other data in the report, the number of Israeli 15-year-olds who have used drugs is lower than in Europe – 6.7 percent – compared to nearly 27 percent of the 15-year-olds in France and 20 percent of that age group in Switzerland, Britain and Spain. Alcohol use is also low by international standards; 8.6 percent of children aged 11-15 have gotten drunk at least once in their lives, a lower rate than in almost all the 40 countries that were surveyed.

On the other hand, Israeli kids rank second in the percentage of children who watch television more than four hours a day in those 40 countries. Some 87 percent of kids aged 7-17 spend at least two hours daily on the internet, and 60 percent surf more than four hours. Among youth aged 12-17, 90 percent are active on WhatsApp, 75 percent are on Facebook, 61 percent on Instagram and around half are on Snapchat.

Vered Windman, the director of the National Council for the Child, commented: “The data in the annual report must be a wake-up call for policymakers. If we all don’t wake up, we could find that it will be too late for those who are most precious to us.”

Windman added that not only is the distress becoming more widespread, it’s starting at earlier ages.

“While all the data and studies indicate the importance of investing in early childhood, this period in many ways is still the most neglected area. For example, the vast majority of young children are still in unlicensed settings, with no supervision or mandatory standards to ensure their safety, well-being and education,” she said.