February 2, 2017

Dear Members of the Committee on Foreign Affairs,

Thank you for affording me this opportunity to share my thoughts with this esteemed committee.

This past year I was invited by friends involved in NORPAC to meet with Congressman Chris Smith. During that meeting, I mentioned to the Congressman that it was my professional opinion as a Board Certified Pediatrician from the State of New Jersey that the hate and incitement to violence being taught to children in UNRWA schools should be considered a form of Societal Child Abuse and as Child Advocates we should do what we can to change the status quo so that another generation of children do not succumb to the same fate. I was so pleased that Congressman Smith expressed interest in my perspective on this issue and pledged to form a committee to investigate this further.

In order to illustrate my point that such teachings are a form of child abuse and avoid any bias that might result from a matter fraught with layers of politics, I have put together a video using footage I obtained from the Center for Near East Policy Research, editing out any mention of “Jews”, “Israel”, or “The Right of Return”. (See video here: https://youtu.be/1h7bWOD6lEQ). I was granted permission to use this footage and share this video from its Director, David Bedein. The video highlights what I believe is often overlooked because of “politics”- that the status quo of glorifying violence and martyrdom to impressionable children in the UNRWA schools is exploitation and violates these children’s rights. Examples of this have been well documented by a number of organizations, including The Center for Near East Policy Research, UN Watch, and Palestinian Media Watch.  I will defer to their expertise to prove that this is indeed the case. For purposes of my submission, I will discuss this as it relates to my field of expertise.

Children everywhere deserve to be educated in a system free of violence and hate, to grow up and reach their full potential as productive members of society, to dream of someday becoming a doctor, lawyer, teacher, engineer, artist, journalist, etc. Instead, these children are apparently fed a steady diet of hate and incitement to commit acts of violence, and sadly (as is illustrated in the video) dream of things we would never imagine for our own children.

What strikes me as a pediatrician, child advocate, and parent, is that based on standard norms and values, the systematic teaching of children to hate and commit acts of violence would without a doubt be considered unacceptable in our country. If it is wrong for our children, it should be wrong for all children. As citizens of one of the principle donor nations to UNRWA, we should use our influence to affect a positive change to the curriculum and hold UNRWA accountable for implementing an appropriate education for these impressionable young students. As professional child advocates, we are obligated to ensure that children are not exploited. My hope is that international child advocacy organizations will also use their influence and call for an end to this violation of children’s rights. If the committee so chooses to hold a future hearing focusing on UNRWA, I would welcome the opportunity to help connect the committee to individuals who might testify as experts in the field of Children’s Rights.

I’ve recently returned from a trip to South Africa with my friends from NORPAC. Nelson Mandela was an inspiration to so many. I’d like to share two quotes of his:

“Education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world.”

“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.”

Resources and materials in support of my report:

  1. Definitions:

Child abuse or Child Maltreatment:

The intentional harm or threat of harm to a child by a person who is acting in the role of caretaker.

Health care providers who care for children have a professional, and often legal, obligation to identify and protect children who may be victims of abuse and neglect. (Wissow LS. Reporting suspected child maltreatment. In: Child Advocacy for the Clinician: An Approach to Child Abuse and Neglect, Wissow LS. (Ed), Williams & Wilkins, Baltimore 1990. p.209.)


United Nations Relief and Works Agency, charged with providing healthcare, social services, and education to Palestinian “refugees” living in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem.

  1. The American Academy of Pediatrics:

AAP Section on Child Abuse and Neglect (SOCAN):

AAP policy statement on “The Pediatricians role in Child Maltreatment Prevention “(9/10, reaffirmed 10/14):

“It is the pediatrician’s role to promote the child’s well-being and to help parents raise healthy, well-adjusted children”.

AAP policy statement on “Psychological Maltreatment, Clinical Report” (7/12, reaffirmed 4/16):

“Psychological or emotional maltreatment of children may be the most challenging and prevalent form of child abuse and neglect. Caregiver behaviors include acts of omission (ignoring need for social interactions) or commission (spurning, terrorizing); may be verbal or nonverbal, active or passive, and with or without intent to harm; and negatively affect the child’s cognitive, social, emotional, and/or physical development. Psychological maltreatment has been linked with disorders of attachment, developmental and educational problems, socialization problems, disruptive behavior, and later psychopathology.”

AAP statement on “Understanding the Behavioral and Emotional Consequences of Child Abuse”, Pediatrics, September 2008, Volume 122/Issue 3:

Children who have suffered early abuse or neglect may later present with significant behavior problems including emotional instability, depression, and a tendency to be aggressive or violent with others. Troublesome behaviors may persist long after the abusive or neglectful environment has changed …An increasing body of evidence documents the robust relationship between adverse experiences in early childhood and a host of complications, both medical and psychological, that manifest throughout childhood and later in adult life…many of the dysfunctional behaviors have their origins not in some random organic dysfunction but, rather, in the otherwise healthy brain’s physiological adaptations to the abnormal world in which the developing child finds himself or herself…In cases of child abuse or neglect or other exposure to violence, in which the stresses are often prolonged and unavoidable, long-term stress reactions are common and can be especially devastating…early maltreatment (physical or sexual abuse, neglect, or exposure to violence and fear) can deprive the child of the tools needed to adapt to a larger social environment. In addition to denying the developing child necessary social interactions, early maltreatment can alter the normal child’s neural physiology, significantly changing the expected responses to stress and affecting the child’s ability to learn from experience…Unfortunately for the child, a brain specifically adapted for one type of extreme environment is seldom optimized to perform in another.

AAP Committee on Public Education:

AAP Policy statement on Children, Adolescents and Television (Pediatrics. February 2001, Volume 107/Issue 2) describes the possible negative health effects of television viewing on children and adolescents, including “violent or aggressive behavior” amongst other things. ”In the scientific literature on media violence, the connection of media violence to real-life aggressive behavior and violence has been substantiated”. (Therefore I would conclude one can extrapolate that there would be a connection of teaching violence to real-life aggressive behavior and violence)

III. The United Nation’s Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict:

The International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2002, recognized “conscripting or enlisting children under the age of 15 and using them to participate actively in hostilities ” as a war crime.”

  1. The World Health Organization:

Preventing child maltreatment: A guide to taking action and generating evidence is a tool developed jointly by the World Health Organization and the International Society for Prevention of Child Abuse to assist national governments in establishing programs to prevent, detect and respond to child abuse [28]. http://www.who.int/violence_injury_prevention/violence/activities/child_maltreatment/en/

“Violence against children is highlighted in the World report on violence and health (see chapters 2 and 3 on youth violence and child abuse and neglect) and as such is an integral part of WHO’s Global Campaign for Violence Prevention and its objectives to promote uptake of the WHO prevention recommendations and support countries in their implementation of WHA Resolution 56.24 Implementing the recommendations of the World report on violence and health.”

“To help meet these prevention challenges, WHO has collaborated with the International Society for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect (ISPCAN) in the development of Preventing child maltreatment: a guide for taking action and generating evidence to assist countries to design and deliver programs for the prevention of child maltreatment by parents and caregivers. “

  1. Convention on the Rights of the Child: From the World Report on Violence and Health, p. 77, 78:

“In November 1989, the United Nations General Assembly adapted the Convention on the Rights of the Child. A guiding principle of the Convention is that children are individuals with equal rights to those of adults. Since children are dependent on adults, though, their views are rarely taken into account when governments set out policies. At the same time, children are often the most vulnerable group as regards government-sponsored activities relating to the environment, living conditions, health care and nutrition. The Convention on the Rights of the Child provides clear standards and obligations for all signatory nations for the protection of children.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child is one of the most widely ratified of all the international treaties and conventions. Its impact, thought, in protecting children from abuse and neglect has yet to be fully realized.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child recognizes and urges respect for the human rights of children. In particular, Article 19 calls for legislative, administrative, social and educational actions to protect children from all forms of violence, including abuse and neglect.

Respectfully submitted,

Deborah Singer Soffen,
Princeton, NJ