RISING juvenile crime, violence in schools, depression, and widespread use of tranquillisers are just some of the grim facts to emerge from a new report about children in Israel.
The report by the National Council for the Child follows the release of separate figures showing that one in four Israeli youngsters lives below the poverty line.
Police opened files on 29,000 children in 1999, nearly 10 per cent more than in 1998, and 11,870 cases were filed in the juvenile courts - up more than 20 per cent.
Drug-related crimes figured more prominently than in years gone by, particularly among recent immigrants, of whom 250,000 have arrived over the past decade, mainly from the former Soviet Union. Just over 10 per cent of all children are immigrants, and they account for one-third of all juveniles involved in drug-related crime.
In 1999, police looked into more than 3,000 reports of violence by children in schools, compared with only 930 in 1995, opening criminal investigations on more than half.
More than one-qarter of pupils said they did not feel safe in school; nearly half of senior sixth-formers reported having seen pupils carrying knives in school grounds; and more than one in four junior high-schoolers said they had been involved in rows over ethnicity or religion. One in four children said teachers had insulted or humiliated them.
Dr Asher Ben-Arieh, co-editor of the report, said a materialistic culture, wide socio-economic gaps, ethnic divisions, and Israel's conflict with the Palestinians all contributed to rising violence in society. "An essential first step is to separate a child's right to services in education and health from his or her ability to pay," he said.
World Health Organisation figures included in the study suggest that Israeli youth feel too pressured at home and at school. They rank at the top, or nearly at the top, of nearly 30, mainly western, countries when it comes to depression, use of tranquillisers, tendency to diet, a feeling that teachers are too hard on them, and that parents expect too much.