Law Making Child Stipends Contingent on Vaccination Comes Under Fire

Rights groups plan to fight law, saying unrecognized Bedouin villages, with scarce resources, would be unfairly affected by the new rules.

Residents of unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Negev and human rights groups will petition the High Court of Justice today against implementation of an amendment that would reduce child allowances for parents who fail to vaccinate their children as required by law.

The petitioners say the law does not take account of the scarcity and inaccessibility of clinics and medical services in the Negev, and could severely reduce benefits that support hundreds of thousands of children.

The amendment in question, enacted as part of last year's Economic Arrangements Law, is due to take effect a month from now. The Social Affairs Ministry and the National Insurance Institute are charged with enforcing it.

"Reducing child allowances for failing to be vaccinated is completely irrelevant to the child's entitlement to the allowance as stipulated in the National Insurance Law," the petitioners wrote. "Implementing this amendment would gravely impinge on the child's right to receive the child allowance. [It would] impinge on the principle of equality between the children who get vaccinated and those who do not, and impinge on the children's property rights and their right to social security."

Reducing the allowances would also widen socioeconomic gaps and increase poverty among children, the petition added.

"We're talking about cutting some 60 percent of each child's allowance," said attorney Sawsan Zaher of Adalah - The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel. "The unrecognized villages hardly ever have well-baby clinics, so the kids can't get vaccinated. These cuts are punishing children who have done no wrong, especially since the [state's] obligation to set up clinics to provide the vaccinations is not being met."

Zaher said that as many as 70 percent of the residents of unrecognized villages were living under the poverty line as it is, and cutting child allowances would force parents to give up on essential items like clothing, food and education.

Safa Shahada, the head of the forum of Arab women's organizations in the Negev and one of the petitioners, said the cuts could seriously harm Bedouin women.

The NII responded that it will study the petition once it receives a copy, but noted that the amendment is not yet in effect.