Three years ago this phenomena was exposed by Ynet. At the time it was reported that Bedouin children were being employed in agricultural work, during the school day. The police opened an inquiry, together with the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor, but since then, almost nothing has changed. Now, someone in Rahat has decided to break the silence.
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According to him, even after the published investigations, children are still working in agricultural fields, and their parents and employers are freely breaking the Compulsory Education Law.
During a visit to one of the greenhouses near Moshav Klahim in the Negev, young children are visible doing physical labor. A school official who saw photos of the children recognized one of his former students.
Adult workers on site said that the man responsible for the children’s work at the greenhouse denied any connection or involvement. “I live off of income support," he explained when reached by telephone.
Attempts to contact the owner of the greenhouse were unsuccessful and workers from Moshav Klahim and another moshav nearby said they did not know who they were associated with.
The education official said that since the original breaking of the story, the children have not returned to the schoolroom. “Suddenly, the case was closed. No one spoke of it again, and the children did not return to school. Not a single one of them.”
According to him, the years passed and then came the straw that broke the camels back, He said it was a visit he made to the family’s home. “The father has consistently said he will not return the children to school, defiantly stating, ‘Do what you want, nothing will come of it.’”
The official says that sometimes he speaks to the sister of one of the children known to be working in agriculture. She tells him that the father beats them; he doesn’t like her because her mother sends her to school without his permission. She says at home they call her bad names. She tells the man it hurts her to live like this.
The official adds, “What prompted me to speak up was what happened when I was at their house about a month ago. The oldest son, now 20, threw us out of the house. He claimed it was the right of the father not to return the children to school. I said to him, ‘there is a law in the Education Ministry in this country that forbids this.’”
Children working in greenhouse (Photo: Roi Idan)
As we began to drive away, he ran after us. I opened a window, and he asked to meet with us at the school. He arrived crying and explained, ‘I have to be on my father’s side, it pains me to see my brother who is 11, getting up at 3 am to go to work.’ He said that his brother wasn’t even allowed to keep the money he earned.” According to the official, the 11-year-old boy asked his friends to tell the teachers to fight to get him back in school.
The manager of the educational system in Rahat admits there is a problem with absenteeism. “We are aware of the issue and trying to attend to it via the legal system, but it is a process.”
The Educational Ministry issued a response stating that in the past three years its agents have taken steps to decrease the dropout rate in Rahat. “Due to actions we have taken, the dropout rate has decreased significantly. The district has increased enforcement and the number of regular truancy officers.”
According to the Education Ministry, the Rahat school district has reported 13 students who are consistently truant. Their parents have been warned both in person and by letter, that they are in refusal of the Compulsory Education Law, yet they still refuse to send their children to school. The district is working with the municipality of Rahat to take action in regard to the issue.
In response to an inquiry, the police issued a statement, “After the completion of an investigation by all parties, the information will be passed onto the appropriate authorities, and to the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor, for the lodging of charges. If there is suspicion of criminal offenses, we request that they come to the police station in Rahat so that we can open an investigation.”
The Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor said that the cases of non-Jewish children are given priority treatment due to their designation as “a weak worker population that needs protection.”
They also said that “administrative enforcement is aware of the phenomena and acting against it. All additional information regarding breaking of labor laws can be passed onto us for investigation.”
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