The phenomenon of violence against children has accompanied us throughout the generations.
We know the story of the binding of Isaac in Genesis. Abraham did not invent the idea of sacrificing for God. Apparently, he brought the practice from Ur Kasdim, his homeland. Abraham exiled his concubine Hagar, and second son Ishmael, to the desert in order to die of hunger and thirst. Sacrificing children to Moloch, was part of the ancient Canaanite culture that the Jews tried to exterminate, but when they come to take revenge on the men of the tribe of Benjamin for terrible injustices to the mistress, they killed all the males in the tribe.
Aztec culture sacrificed the most beautiful teenagers to God. Spartan culture had a father put his newborn child on the roof of the house at night. If the baby survived, it was fitting for the people of Sparta. Is the thousand year old practice of sending young people to fight, especially in a considerable amount of terrible battles with diabolical weapons only the human mind could invent – is all this violence against youth?
Violence against children and sacrificing children to a divinity or national ideology comes from the idea that head of the family, clan, tribe, king or dictator are part of a patriarchal culture, contrary to the egalitarian ideas of democracy we advocate today. When the mother is a devoted servant, she has no say regarding the fate of her children. The father, brothers and uncles decided whom the girls married, at what age, and her worth. When the mother was disenfranchised, her children were disenfranchised too. When the owners of slaves in the United States sold a slave, they didn’t always sell the children to the same buyer.
And children themselves? What happens to them? How are they treated? In England there is a common expression: “young children should be seen but not heard”. Basically, keep their mouths shut. And this is in middle class families. Aristocratic families had a governess who raised the children and at a certain age boys were sent to boarding schools. Away from home. Not to be heard nor see. And the children of the workers? There are reports that the people who were sent to forced labor in the mines, were sent with their families. The children would go work in agriculture (most people in the world were tenant farmers at the beginning of the twentieth century), and work in small workshops. In countries such as Iran, little girls would tie woolen strings in luxurious wool carpets. Violence against children, women and living beings, were once facts of life that few people had never experienced. Educating a child included a lot of physical violence, with hands, fists, sticks, whips and belts. Even in schools, teacher or principals were allowed to beat children. Today, children are used in prostitution and as beggars, forcefully deprived of any connection to childhood and youth.
In my childhood, on the way to school, I passed several classroom of different types of people. The windows faced Shmuel Hanavi Street (in Jerusalem) and sometimes I saw a teacher or rabbi, smacking kids on their toes. The children learned to hold their tongues and shut up. In the UK teachers beat the boys on their hands or backsides, in front of the whole class – only some fifty years ago. As another English proverb says: “save the stick and spoil the child …”
In Israel today, a recently published study suggests that 48% of Jewish children suffer from various kinds of violence by adults: physical, sexual and psychological or a combination of all three. Among Arab children it is approximately 66%. It is not clear whether this is also violence against children in the haredi sector. About a third of elementary school children are exposed to violence by other children. Within their families, schools, and neighborhoods. These children are afraid to go to school.
This data is outrageous and appalling. It is clear that children exposed to violence against their mothers become victims of violence by the hands of a violent father. The data shows that over seventy-five percent of children experience violence. Yet society is silent and continues to bury its head in the sand.
I appeal to Minister of Education Rabbi Shay Piron and the Committee on the Rights of the Child demanding the right of all children living in the country to live without fear and intimidation, without violence and pain. Damage caused to young souls is forever engraved in their awareness. Some become violent people themselves, some choose to escape by ways of criminal behavior, drugs and alcohol, while others will attempt suicide, and unfortunately some attempts will be successful.
Margaret Mead stated many years ago her in anthropological study that, ” it takes a village to raise a child”. Let’s make it a national challenge. Let’s all become one village. We can do this by understanding the needs of children, reading the works of the great educator Janusz Korczak, looking at children’s’ body language and the sadness exuding from suffering children. Let’s teach the kindergarten and elementary school teachers that prior to providing knowledge to our children, they must give children confidence, love, and faith in the world around them.