JERUSALEM – It’s a nightmare for working parents everywhere: abusive nannies.
But in Israel, a country with a particularly indulgent approach toward children, four nannies caught by secret cameras as they struck babies and young children have caused a nationwide uproar.
The images bumped the conflict with the Palestinians off the front pages, put working parents on edge and sparked efforts to regulate the child-care sector.
The outcry erupted Feb. 22 after a television station played grainy footage of a nanny caring for 7-month-old twins and shaking, slapping and spanking one of the babies.
The woman, 30-year-old Galina Goriatzkin, was arrested, and her picture was plastered on the front page of the Maariv daily under the headline “Nanny Without Mercy.”
Maariv also ran a picture of the twins, faces blurred, over this caption: “Suspicion was raised when they stopped smiling.” Inside the paper was a two-page spread that included several freeze-frame pictures of the woman striking a baby.
The case remained front page news for days. The Yediot Ahronot daily ran stories about the rush to buy secret video cameras, child advocacy groups being flooded with calls from worried parents and quoted a psychologist on the warning signs of abuse.
In its weekend edition, Goriatzkin – wearing sunglasses and handcuffs – was the lead item, ahead of news that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had been invited to the Arab nation of Tunisia.
The paper quoted Goriatzkin as telling police that she did not intentionally hurt the children. “She’s not a monster. She loves children,” her boyfriend told Yediot.
The case is the most prominent of several caught on film recently. Two weeks ago, a 60-year-old woman was charged with abusing a 6-month-old girl in her care, Israeli police spokesman Gil Kleiman said.
On Monday, police arrested a 64-year-old Tel Aviv woman for allegedly abusing a 7-month-old girl, and police in Haifa arrested a 54-year-old woman on Thursday who was filmed physically and verbally abusing a 6-year-old girl in her care.
The 6-year-old’s parents told Yediot they installed a hidden camera after hearing about the other cases of alleged abuse. The paper quoted the nanny as telling interrogators she was only trying to discipline a difficult child.
None of the children was seriously injured, but the videos struck a raw nerve in one of the world’s most child-friendly societies. Several Israeli television channels are devoted to children’s programming. Even the fanciest restaurants have highchairs, and Israeli parents are notorious for not disciplining their children, as a trip to any school or shopping mall will illustrate.
The cases also shed light on a child-care system that lacks national standards.
“You don’t have to pass any exam, and anybody with no accreditation whatsoever could become a baby sitter,” said Yitzhak Kadman of the National Council for the Child. He said his group has been inundated by calls from parents asking how to find a suitable nanny.
Kadman estimated that by age 3, some 90 percent of Israeli children are under the supervision of either a baby sitter or day care center.
In recent days, Ayoob Kara, a Likud lawmaker, proposed legislation that would require all child-care providers to be licensed.
Kadman praised the effort, but said such legislation would take time to pass. And he said the concern over nannies should be put into perspective.
“We should be more concerned about children and babies who are abused and shaken by their own parents than to say the real risk is coming from nannies or baby sitters.”