Health Ministry to Spearhead Response to Child Car Deaths

United Torah Judaism MK Uri Maklev listening to the discussion at a Knesset committee meeting. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
United Torah Judaism MK Uri Maklev listening to the discussion at a Knesset committee meeting. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

A series of tragic deaths of children forgotten in cars has galvanized public officials to produce a measure to counter the phenomenon.

In an emergency meeting of the Knesset Special Committee for the Rights of the Child,

Health Minister Rabbi Yaakov Litzman (United Torah Judaism) pledged that his office would take responsibility for overseeing an interministerial response.

“The things that have happened have caused an awakening. It is possible to prevent it, and we need to reach a solution,” Rabbi Litzman said.

“The Health Ministry will coordinate the issue. Within a week we will hold an additional meeting. We will convene all the relevant ministries in the coming days,” he added.

On Tuesday, yet another such incident was reported, though b’chasdei Shamayim, tragedy was narrowly averted.

A 3-week-old baby was left in a closed car in Ashdod for several minutes, and was rescued in time by MDA paramedics. They administered first aid to the infant, who was already showing symptoms of heat stroke. Fortunately, the infant’s condition was described as light, and evacuation to a hospital was unnecessary.

Over the past two months, five children have died in Israel after being forgotten in cars in the summer heat. According to the NGO Beterem – Safe Kids Israel — since 2008 there have been 400 incidents involving 449 children in which parents or caregivers forgot or left their kids in a car. Of these, 23 incidents were fatal.

Committee chairwoman MK Yifat Shasha-Biton (Kulanu) and UTJ MK Uri Maklev noted that the government had so far done nothing to combat the dismaying phenomenon, even though numerous solutions are available, including technical devices that alert parents when children are left in a car.

MK Maklev told the gathering that “we have to shed the concept that the parents are to blame.” He said that at the Knesset’s Science and Technology Committee dozens of solutions were presented, and he called on the Transportation Ministry to adopt solutions that will be legally required for all cars in order to put an end to these tragedies.

Shasha-Biton’s proposal would require schools to call the parents of young children who are an hour late for arrival at school or their day care center, to ascertain their whereabouts.

However, Lily Pokmonsky, head of the caregivers department at the Education Ministry, expressed opposition to the bill, arguing that it would place the onus of responsibility on the caregivers and would lead to criminal liability, The Jerusalem Post reported.

“Once this becomes a law, it becomes a requirement. And the moment that she [the teacher] does not do it, she will be charged criminally. You cannot harm 18,000 caregivers,” she said.

MK Shasha-Biton vehemently rejected the argument.

“How did a process of saving children turn into a scary propaganda that will put caregivers in jail? We did not aim for this. We are losing too many children, and we cannot remain apathetic,” she said.

“At no point did we talk about criminal liability or punishment or taking away the responsibility from parents,” she said. “Because I know that educators work from the soul, I ask them to take part in the effort.”

Head of Beterem Orly Silvinger advocated a multi-tiered approach. “If one layer fails, there should be another to protect the children,” she said, and stressed the need to raise public awareness.