Italy steps up res­cue plan for ‘mafia kids’

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

It is one of the most se­cre­tive or­ga­ni­za­tions in the world, with power passed through blood ties and fam­ily loy­alty. But Italy’s ruth­less ‘Ndrangheta mafia may have met its match. Judges in the coun­try’s deep south have been plac­ing the off­spring from Italy’s most pow­er­ful crim­i­nal or­ga­ni­za­tion into care in a bid to save them from fol­low­ing their grand­fa­thers, fa­thers and un­cles down the path to prison. Ini­tially the project sparked con­tro­versy, with the Church in par­tic­u­lar protest­ing the tear­ing of chil­dren from homes.

But four years af­ter it launched in the crime-plagued Cal­abria re­gion, the gov­ern­ment has signed a pro­to­col which will not only un­lock fresh re­sources but could also see the scheme ap­plied na­tion­wide in other mafia strongholds. Dubbed “Liberi di Scegliere” (Free to Choose), the pro­gram has so far seen 40 young­sters sent to live with foster fam­i­lies or in com­mu­ni­ties in se­cret lo­ca­tions across the coun­try where they learn about life be­yond the clans.

“The is­sue is ex­tremely del­i­cate and we’re walk­ing a thin line,” ad­mit­ted In­te­rior Min­is­ter Marco Min­niti, as he pre­sented the new pro­to­col this week­end along with Jus­tice Min­is­ter An­drea Or­lando. “And yet there are sit­u­a­tions in which a coun­try’s demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tions have to in­ter­vene in in­trafam­ily re­la­tions to guar­an­tee the free­dom of mi­nors,” he said.

‘Ex­tra­or­di­nary re­sults’

The name ‘Ndrangheta comes from the Greek for courage or loy­alty and the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s bru­tal en­force­ment of codes of si­lence make it very dif­fi­cult to pen­e­trate­and equally as dif­fi­cult to leave. Judge Roberto Di Bella, who launched the project at the ju­ve­nile court in Reg­gio when he re­al­ized the mi­nors com­ing be­fore him were the chil­dren of those he had put away in the 1990s said “the re­sults have been ex­tra­or­di­nary”. “The kids go back to school, they take part in so­cially use­ful ac­tiv­i­ties, they re­veal tal­ents and po­ten­tial that had been re­pressed by their sphere of prove­nance,” he said.

The young­sters who qual­ify are those con­sid­ered to be on a fast­track to join­ing the fam­ily busi­ness, whether they are ar­rested for smug­gling Kalash­nikovs or their par­ents are caught on wire­taps train­ing them in mafia codes. Most are sent into the pro­gram when they are 15 or 16 years old and stay un­til they turn 18.

“The idea is to make them un­der­stand jail is not an oblig­a­tory step or a medal to be worn with pride,” Di Bella said. There has been an­other un­ex­pected con­se­quence: a ma­ter­nal re­bel­lion. Moth­ers have ap­proached the court in se­cret to re­quest their chil­dren be sent away or ask to be sent away them­selves. Oth­ers have turned in­for­mant. “We’re un­der­min­ing cul­tural mod­els that seemed in­vi­o­lable, and out­lin­ing psy­cho­log­i­cal sce­nar­ios that are ut­terly un­charted,” Di Bella said.

‘Hard men’

The new pro­to­col will see spe­cial­ized teams of psy­chol­o­gists, so­cial work­ers, tu­tors and foster fam­i­lies set up and fi­nanced by the re­gion to trans­form the largely ad­hoc process into “an anti-mafia ed­uca­tive task force”. Psy­chol­o­gist En­rico In­ter­do­nato, 33, has sup­ported three of the teenagers dur­ing their plac­ings and said the gov­ern­ment’s sup­port was vi­tal in en­sur­ing more ther­a­pists are trained in the spe­cial­ist area of mafia chil­dren. “They are emo­tion­ally rigid, raised to be ‘hard men’. The im­por­tant thing is to take them to a place where their sur­name has no res­o­nance so they can stop be­ing heirs to a dy­nasty and get to know them­selves,” he said.

Once he has earned their trust and feels they are ready he in­tro­duces the teenagers to peo­ple he has worked with who have been vic­tims of or­ga­nized crime. He also helps them get and hold down jobs. The ‘Ndrangheta has sur­passed Si­cily’s Cosa Nos­tra and the Naples-based Camorra thanks to its piv­otal role in smug­gling co­caine from South Amer­ica into Europe, but the other his­toric crime groups are still pow­er­ful.

Jus­tice Min­is­ter Or­lando said the project was work­ing so well it may be ex­tended be­yond moun­tain­ous Cal­abria to save chil­dren in their clutches too. “A path has been laid that should be fol­lowed,” he said.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Kuwait

© PressReader. All rights reserved.