Italian PM Meloni flexes muscles on 'baby gang' crime
September 8, 2023 08:40 PM
Italy's far-right government is clamping down on juvenile crime after a recent spate of gang rapes blamed on teenagers, but critics warned Friday that harsher penalties alone would not stamp out delinquency.
The decree law published by Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni's cabinet late Thursday includes jailing parents whose delinquent children are not enrolled in school and making it easier for police to arrest children carrying weapons.
Meloni, the leader of the far-right Brothers of Italy party whose tough-on-crime stance appeals to many voters, is responding to two high-profile gang rapes blamed on minors that have shocked the public and dominated headlines this summer.
Some Italian cities, such as Naples, are also struggling to deal with a phenomenon the media has labelled "baby gangs" -- children often recruited by the mafia for drug dealing, thefts and other crimes.
"The situation has gotten out of control and something must be done," Meloni said during a press conference Thursday.
Last week, she visited Caivano, a tough northeastern suburb of Naples overrun by the Camorra mafia where it emerged in August that two female cousins, aged 10 and 11, had been raped by other youths.
In Sicily in July, a 19-year-old woman was raped in Palermo by a group of seven young men, the attack filmed on video.
During a visit conducted under tight security, Meloni insisted she would not accept "no-go" zones, often controlled by organised crime groups, and promised that Caivano would be "radically reclaimed".
"We came here to say that we intend to act and show our face," she said, saying the Italian state had previously been either absent or "not sufficiently felt".
- Marginalisation -
Police launched a blitz on Caivano earlier this week and Meloni promised more money to rebuild the neighbourhood's derelict sports centre and more teachers for Caivano's schools.
She said Thursday that the national measures agreed in the decree law were "repressive, but preventative".
The decree widens the number of offences for which children as young as 14 can be put behind bars, and allows police to arrest those 14 and up carrying weapons.
Judges can ban cellphones from minors 14 and up, under certain circumstances.
Parents, meanwhile, can be sentenced to two years in jail for failing to enrol their children in school despite an official warning by police, and one year if the child has a high truancy rate.
Currently, the parents of truants can be fined 30 euros.
Critics said Meloni's measures were only part of the solution, saying young people across the country needed better schooling and improved social programmes.
The parliamentary deputy head of the opposition Five Star Movement, Vittoria Baldino, said the new decree was a strategy to "conquer only headlines on tomorrow's paper but doesn't revolve the problem of societal marginalisation".
In an interview Friday with the daily newspaper Il Giornale, top Italian Cardinal Matteo Zuppi said "concrete interventions" were needed to address youth delinquency, taking into account "failures, delays, and omissions that foster the growth of youth discomfort".