Amid string of child abuse cases, ministers delay meeting on daycare supervision

Proposed bill, which has been pushed off for years, would set up cameras at kindergartens; court remands kindergarten teacher in latest case

Michael Bachner is a news editor at The Times of Israel

Illustrative of children playing at a kindergarten in Petah Tikvah. (Screen capture/ YouTube)
Illustrative of children playing at a kindergarten in Petah Tikvah. (Screen capture/ YouTube)

The Knesset’s Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Sunday came under fire for delaying a meeting on a proposed law that would tighten the supervision in kindergartens, amid a series of widely publicized abuse cases in private daycares around the country.

The Social Affairs Ministry went head-to-head with the Finance Ministry over the delay, accusing the treasury of holding up the law to avoid funding the project.

It blamed the Finance Ministry for the three-week postponement of the ministerial debate and accused it of being “impervious and irresponsible,” according to Hadashot television news. “From now on, every tragedy is on them.”

In response, the Finance Ministry lashed out at the Social Affairs Ministry for its “lies and spin.”

“Instead of training teachers in order to lower the risk of child abuse, it [the ministry] chooses to shift the blame to other offices while making declarations that, apart from generating newspaper headlines, lack any basis,” the treasury said.

Other activists similarly attacked the Finance Ministry for its alleged reservations on earmarking the millions of shekels needed to install cameras at institutions nationwide.

“The stomach lurches at the fact that financial considerations and political battles prevail over consideration for children’s lives,” said Vered Windman, the director of the National Council for the Child. “The tragedies and horrible cases of the last days are a tragic demonstration not only of the importance of the law, but also of its urgency.”

The supervision law, which has been debated and delayed for years, passed a preliminary reading in the Knesset plenum in January, but still has not been cleared by the ministerial committee for three additional votes that would make it law.

Sigal Elkayam-Weiss, suspected of abusing toddlers at a kindergarten in Ramat Gan, seen at the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court on June 17, 2018. (Flash90)

Earlier Sunday, a kindergarten teacher from the central Israeli city of Ramat Gan was remanded for the second time after evidence mounted that she had abused toddlers who were in her care.

Sigal Elkayam-Weiss, 36, was arrested on Thursday after parents complained about violence and abuse in the kindergarten, with kids returning home with scratch marks, bite marks, and other injuries.

Elkayam-Weiss had been questioned by police a week earlier, and officers then obtained video footage of violent incidents in the kindergarten. The footage also showed her putting children, ranging in age from 1-and-a-half to 3-years-old, in a dark solitary room as a form of punishment.

A police official said that when the carer watched the footage, she admitted it was her, expressed regret, and said that had she watched such a video on the internet, she would have asked about the identity of the “monster” teacher.

Ina Skivenko, a kindergarten teacher suspected of causing the death of 14-month-old Yasmin Vinta at a kindergarten in Petah Tikva, is brought for a court hearing at a Petah Tikva court on June 3, 2018. (Roy Alima/Flahs90)

During Sunday’s remand hearing at the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court, distraught parents shouted at Elkayam-Weiss: “Look us in the eyes, you monster. Shame on you. What have you done to our kids?”

The judge ruled that she will stay in custody until Tuesday, after her remand was previously extended on Friday.

Elkayam-Weiss’s attorney, Shani Moran, said at the hearing that her client is “without criminal history, has admitted the charges and expressed regret and sorrow. She fully cooperated in the interrogation. Her mental state is very bad and she can’t obstruct the investigation.”

It is the third case uncovered in recent weeks of child abuse by kindergarten teachers.

Last week, 23-year-old Ina Skivenko was indicted for the manslaughter of 14-month-old Yasmin Vinta in Petah Tikva.

The parents of the late toddler Yasmin Vinta, Dorina and Vladimir, hold her picture on June 7, 2018, in front of the kindergarten where she was found dead in Petah Tikva. (Roy Alima/Flash90)

According to the charge sheet, Skivenko last month allegedly sat on the toddler, who suffocated and died. She is also accused of abusing babies in at least 10 separate cases by slamming them on  the floor, throwing them on chairs, kicking them or shaking them.

Police last week also arrested Aviya Dahan, a 63-year-old kindergarten teacher, and her 28-year-old assistant Lihi Ben Daniel, after footage showed a series of violent incidents in their daycare in Givatayim, including pinching, slapping, insulting, shoving and scratching toddlers. They were being held under house arrest.

The dead toddler’s mother, Dorina Vinta, who participated in a Knesset hearing last week, told lawmakers that “while I know my baby can’t be brought back, I still want to protect other children and set up cameras for them.”

The parents of the late toddler Yasmin Vinta, Dorina and Vladimir, attend a Child Rights Committee meeting at the Knesset on June 12, 2018. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Yasmin’s father, Vladimir, complained during the meeting that the supervision law had been worked on for more than a decade. “I know of thousands of kids harmed in kindergartens, and because there are no cameras nobody knows what happened and there is no proof of violence,” he said.

Parents have been complaining for  years about the lack of supervision and background checks in day care centers in Israel. The latest law on the issue passed in 1965, and many have argued that its content is outdated and out of touch with modern supervision standards.

According to Kulan MK Yifat Shasha-Biton, who proposed the new law, only 23 percent of Israeli kids between the ages of 0-3 years attend supervised daycare programs.

“Over 70% of the kids are in no-man’s land, where we don’t really know what is happening with them during most hours of the day,” she said.

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