The battle to defend the weak

AS Eli, the Israel Association for Child Protection, holds an international conference on child abuse this week in Jerusalem, the West is looking at Israel’s progressive legislation in the areas of sexual abuse.

In 1955, the Knesset passed a law stating that a child under 14 does not have to testify in court in sexual abuse cases if appearing in court would harm him psychologically. Instead, the child is questioned by a professional youth investigator (often a social worker), who in turn testifies in court. This legal arrangement is unique in the world.

Recently, additional legislation was passed to protect victims of child abuse:

* In November 1989, an amendment was passed which defined a new category of offenses concerning the abuse of children, with more severe punishments. The amendment also established a general obligation to report to the authorities when there is a suspicion that such offenses have been committed. Failure to report is now an offense.

* In August 1990, an amendment was passed making punishments for sex offenses more severe and defining incest as a separate and more severe offense.

* In January 1991, a change in the law of evidence reduced the amount of corroborating evidence required for a conviction based on the testimony of a child 12 years of age or under.

* In March 1991, a law was passed enabling the court to keep a violent family member away from the family, rather than removing the endangered children and placing them in institutions.

ALTHOUGH THE laws in this country are progressive, there is still need for improvement. The 1955 law relating to children’s evidence, for example, only allows the child to give evidence to a youth investigator regarding “offenses against morality” (as defined by the law). But if, in addition to committing an offense against morality, the offender threatened, attacked or kidnaped the child, the prosecution cannot charge the offender with these other offenses, since this would require putting the child on the stand (usually there is no other witness to these crimes.)

The law should therefore apply not only to “offenses against morality,” but also to other related offenses.

The greatest problem, however, is the lax implementation of the law in cases of child abuse and neglect (especially inside the family). The responsibility for implementation lies with the police, the state prosecutor and the courts. But too often the police refuse to go to the family and collect evidence; after which the state prosecutor, without devoting sufficient thought and effort to the matter, will decide not to put the suspect on trial, for lack of evidence.

Jerusalem Post – Jerusalem
Author: Yossi Miller and Philip Veerman
Date: Nov 21, 1991

Yossi Miller is a legal intern from the Hebrew University Faculty of Law with the Israel Section of Defense for Children International. Philip Veerman is the coordinator of DCI-Israel.

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