Last Updated: Wednesday, 27 August 2014, 14:57 GMT

U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2004 - Italy

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 28 February 2005
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2004 - Italy , 28 February 2005, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4226d98111.html [accessed 28 August 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
February 28, 2005

Italy is a multiparty parliamentary democracy. Executive authority is vested in the Council of Ministers, headed by the president of the Council (the Prime Minister). The Head of State (President of the Republic) nominates the Prime Minister after consulting with the leaders of all political forces in Parliament. Elections for the European Parliament during the year were considered generally free and democratic. The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary; however, long trial delays and the impact of organized crime on the criminal justice system complicated the judicial process.

The armed forces are under the control of the Ministry of Defense. The Ministry of Defense controls the Carabinieri, a military security force; however, the Ministry of Interior assumes control of the Carabinieri when they are called upon to assist police forces in maintaining public order. Four separate police forces report to different ministerial or local authorities. Civilian authorities maintained effective control of the security forces. Some members of the security forces committed human rights abuses.

The country had an advanced, industrialized market economy, and the standard of living was high for the country's population of approximately 57.8 million. Wages generally kept pace with inflation. The Government owned a substantial number of enterprises in finance, communications, industry, transportation, and services, but privatization continued to move forward at a measured pace.

The Government generally respected the human rights of its citizens; although there were problems in some areas, the law and judiciary provide effective means of addressing individual instances of abuse. There were some reports of police abuse of detainees. The judiciary investigated accusations of police abuse. Prisons were overcrowded. Lengthy pretrial detention was a serious problem. The pace of justice was slow, and perpetrators of some serious crimes avoided punishment due to trials that exceeded the statute of limitations. Trafficking in persons into the country, particularly women and girls for prostitution, was a problem, which the Government took steps to address. Child labor, primarily involving immigrant children, continued in the underground economy, but authorities actively investigated such reports.

RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom From:

a. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life

There were no reports of the arbitrary or unlawful deprivation of life committed by the Government or its agents.

In July and November, magistrates dismissed charges against two off-duty police officers who killed two persons in 2003 during separate attempted robberies.

In July, Brindisi magistrates sentenced a police superintendent to 6 years in prison along with six other policemen (sentences varied from 3-14 years' imprisonment) for the 1995 death of a smuggler who attempted to flee the country in a rubber dinghy via the Adriatic Sea. They were also convicted of false documentation, brutality, and obstruction of justice.

In December 2003, the leader of the New Red Brigades (Communist Combatant Party) was charged with the March 2003 murder of a policeman. In June and October, prosecutors charged nine members of the New Red Brigades with murder for the 1999 and 2002 killings of two academic advisors (Biagi and D'Antona) to the Labor Ministry; one of the nine was also charged along with the leader of the New Red Brigades with the 2003 murder of a policeman. A preliminary hearing in the D'Antona case began in September, while the Biagi case was scheduled to begin in early 2005. According to police, the New Red Brigades were no longer active by year's end.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The law prohibits such practices; however, according to Amnesty International (AI) and the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Antgone, which monitored issues such as police behavior, police occasionally used excessive force against persons detained in connection with common criminal offenses or in the course of identity checks. While this behavior affected both citizens and foreigners, Africans and Roma were at particular risk (see Section 5).

In February, magistrates indicted 29 policemen, including a number of senior officers, and charged them with perjury, conspiracy, or assault in connection with a 2001 police raid on a building used by protesters at the G-8 summit in Genoa. The trial was scheduled to begin in April 2005. Some police allegedly conspired to manufacture evidence and to claim violent resistance from demonstrators to justify their use of force during the raid. In May, 47 policemen were indicted for "inhuman or degrading treatment," including assault, during the subsequent detention of those protestors.

In May, an off-duty policeman shot and wounded a 16-year-old boy who attempted to steal a motorcycle. The case was under investigation at year's end.

In May, three police officers were indicted for using excessive force and causing personal injury to a number of individuals while trying to clear approximately 100 activists from a Milan emergency room waiting area in March 2003. Four activists were accused of violence against police.

Overcrowded and antiquated prisons continued to be a problem. In July, there were 55,500 detainees incarcerated in a prison system designed to hold 42,100. Older facilities lacked outdoor or exercise space; some prisons lacked adequate medical care. Approximately 61 percent of the inmates were serving sentences; the other 39 percent consisted mainly of detainees awaiting trial or the outcome of an appeal. During the year, 91 prisoners died while in custody; 51 committed suicide.

The 20 temporary detention centers for illegal immigrants were often overcrowded due to an increasingly large flow of illegal immigrants. For example, in September, 900 aliens arrived by boat in Lampedusa and were sent to the local detention center, which was equipped to house only 120 persons. The Government moved the detainees to other detention centers within a few days.

Men were held separately from women, and juveniles were held separately from adults; however, pretrial detainees were not held separately from convicted prisoners.

The Government permits visits by independent human rights organizations, parliamentarians, and the media. AI, the U.N. Human Rights Commission, the U.N. Committee Against Torture, and the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture regularly assessed the country's judicial and prison system. In November, the European Union's Committee for the Prevention of Torture visited several jails. An NGO composed primarily of lawyers, magistrates, and academics promoted the rights of detainees, worked closely with the European Commission for Prevention of Torture, and monitored the prison system. Several municipalities appointed independent ombudsmen to promote the rights of detainees and facilitate access to health care and other services.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The Constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, and the Government generally observed these prohibitions.

Four separate police forces, which report to different ministerial or local authorities, effectively enforced public law and order. The National Police and the Financial Police fall under the jurisdiction of the Interior and Finance Ministries, respectively. The Ministry of Defense controls the Carabinieri, a military security force; however, the Ministry of Interior assumes control of Carabinieri and Financial Police units when they perform law enforcement functions. Under exceptional circumstances, the Government may call on the army to provide security in the form of police duty in certain local areas, thereby freeing the Carabinieri and local police to focus on other duties. Allegations of police corruption were rare.

Both the Government and the judiciary investigated abuses and prosecuted police who mistreated persons in custody. In June 2003, prosecutors charged 31 policemen with unlawful imprisonment and assault based on evidence of their conduct during protests in Naples in 2001 (see Section 1.c.). The trial was scheduled to begin in March 2005.

Warrants are required for arrests unless there is a specific and immediate danger to which the police must respond without waiting for a warrant. Under the law, detainees are allowed prompt and regular access to lawyers of their choosing and to family members. The state provides a lawyer to indigents. Within 24 hours of a suspect's detention, the examining magistrate must decide whether there is enough evidence to proceed with an arrest. The investigating judge then has 48 hours in which to confirm the arrest and recommend whether the case goes to trial. In exceptional circumstances – usually in cases of organized crime figures – where there is danger that attorneys may attempt to tamper with evidence, the investigating judge may take up to 5 days to interrogate the accused before the accused is allowed to contact an attorney.

There is no provision for bail; however, judges may grant provisional liberty to suspects awaiting trial. As a safeguard against unjustified detention, panels of judges (liberty tribunals) review cases of persons awaiting trial on a regular basis per a detainee's request and rule whether continued detention is warranted. Persons in detention included not only those awaiting trial but also individuals awaiting the outcome of a first or second appeal (see Section 1.e.). Pretrial detention may last for a maximum of 24 months. The Constitution and the law provide for restitution in cases of unjust detention (see Section 1.e.).

Preventive detention can be imposed only as a last resort if there is clear and convincing evidence of a serious offense (such as crimes involving the Mafia or those related to terrorism, drugs, arms, or subversion) with a maximum sentence of not less than 4 years or if there is a risk of an offense being repeated or of evidence being falsified. In these cases, a maximum of 2 years of preliminary investigation is permitted. Except in extraordinary situations, preventive custody is not permitted for pregnant women, single parents of children under age 3, persons over age 70, or those who are seriously ill.

Lengthy pretrial detention was a serious problem. In 2003, 36 percent of pretrial detainees were awaiting a final sentence; trials had not begun for another 21 percent. In April, a court ordered the Government to pay $135,000 (100,000 euros) to an entrepreneur who was charged in 1996 and spent 448 days in prison before being acquitted by an appeals court in 2001. According to some judicial experts, some prosecutors used pretrial detention as pressure to obtain confessions.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the Government generally respected this provision in practice; however, most cases involved long trial delays, and the impact of organized crime on the criminal justice system complicated the judicial process.

The judiciary consisted of professional magistrates who function either as prosecutors (the executive branch does not perform prosecutorial functions) or trial and appellate judges. The Superior Council of the Magistracy governs the judiciary. Magistrates select two-thirds of its members; the rest are selected by Parliament.

There are three levels of courts. Either a single judge or a court hears cases at the level of first instance. At the second level, separate courts with juries hear appeals of civil and criminal cases. Decisions of the Court of Appeals can be appealed to the highest court, the Court of Cassation (Supreme Court) in Rome, but only for reasons related to law, not to a case's merit. A separate Constitutional Court hears cases involving possible conflict between laws and the Constitution or involving conflicts over the duties or powers of different units of government.

The law provides for the right to fair and public trials, and the judiciary generally enforced this right. The law grants defendants the presumption of innocence. Defendants have access to an attorney sufficiently in advance to prepare a defense and can confront witnesses. All evidence held by prosecutors may be made available to defendants and their attorneys. Defendants may appeal verdicts to the highest appellate court.

Although some observers noted improvement, domestic and European institutions continued to criticize the slow pace of justice in the country. In 2002, the European Court of Human Rights issued 148 judgments against the Government for excessively long proceedings. Observers cited several reasons for delays: The absence of effective limits on the length of pretrial investigations; the large number of minor offenses included in the penal code; unclear and contradictory legal provisions; prosecutors' complete freedom to set prosecutorial priorities; and insufficient resources, including an inadequate number of judges. During the year, the Chief Prosecutor of the Cassation Court reported that the average time to complete a civil trial was 8 years and a criminal trial 5 years.

The courts have leeway to determine when the statute of limitations should apply, and defendants often took advantage of the slow pace of justice to delay trials through extensive pleas or appeals. In one high-level case in December, judges dropped a bribery charge filed in 1999 against Silvio Berlusconi on the grounds that the statue of limitations had expired. The events on which the charge was based occurred in 1991.

In January, the Constitutional Court abrogated the 2003 legislation granting immunity from prosecution while in office to the country's five highest-ranking public servants, including the prime minister. In April, magistrates resumed Prime Minister Berlusconi's remaining trial (related to his business activities prior to assuming office) and continued proceedings against his codefendants. In December, Berlusconi was acquitted of one count of bribery; judges dropped another count of bribery, ruling the statute of limitations had run out.

There were no reports of political prisoners.

f. Arbitrary Interference With Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The law prohibits such actions, and the Government generally respected these prohibitions in practice. Searches and electronic monitoring may be carried out only under judicial warrant and in carefully defined circumstances; violations were subject to legal sanctions. However, in 2001, Parliament applied antiterrorist laws to suspects responsible for directing violent acts outside the country's borders and authorized prosecutors to order wiretaps in connection with ongoing investigations. Parliament imposed safeguards to prevent the release of information intercepted without prior judicial authorization to unauthorized persons and prohibited its use in criminal proceedings.

A national privacy authority monitored the collection and use of personal data for commercial and other purposes, ensuring that current and proposed data banks and information collection systems conformed to requirements. In February, the Parliament enacted an overall code for the protection of personal information that sets strict privacy requirements for companies and institutions. It requires that data banks created for scientific, statistical, financial, and security purposes protect privacy and introduces sanctions for electronic privacy violations.

2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and the Press

The law provides for freedom of speech and of the press, and the Government generally respected these rights in practice and did not restrict academic freedom. However, the autonomous judiciary was sensitive to investigative leaks and press criticism and imposed fines for defamation.

The media provided a broad spectrum of political opinions, including those critical of Prime Minister Berlusconi and his policies. There were approximately 80 newspapers, of which 8 had national readership; the Berlusconi family controlled 2 of them. Critics charged that Prime Minister Berlusconi directly or indirectly controlled six of the country's seven national broadcast channels: Mediaset (a company in which the Prime Minister had a major interest) owned three, and the state-owned network (RAI) controlled the other three. In December 2003, President Ciampi declined to sign legislation proposed by the Government to relax restrictions on ownership of mass media; in May, the Parliament approved a revised bill, which increased those restrictions.

RAI's three channels and other networks broadcast a wide range of opinion that reflected the full spectrum of political views in the country, but disputes over partisanship on the airwaves continued to prompt frequent political debate. In 2003, RAI's suspension of two programs prompted some complaints of censorship. In May, the president of RAI resigned over objections to the appointment of some executives proposed by the general director who were considered linked to the political coalition in power.

In February, the NGO Reporters Without Borders and the journalists' union criticized search warrants issued against two journalists and two national daily newspapers. Critics noted the contradiction between separate laws maintaining the sanctity of journalistic sources and another authorizing magistrates to carry out investigations into journalistic sources.

Politicians and their supporters filed several defamation suits during the year. In June 2003, magistrates began defamation proceedings against two prominent journalists in connection with their criticism of legal proceedings against former Prime Minister Andreotti; no further action occurred by year's end. In July, a judge dismissed charges filed by a minister against a journalist who wrote an article characterizing the minister as corrupt; however, in 44 percent of defamation cases in Milan between 2001-2003, journalists were convicted.

In July, Naples magistrates placed a 76-year-old journalist and senator under house arrest. In 2002, he had been sentenced to 29 months' imprisonment for defamation because of articles that appeared in a local paper for which he was editor in chief.

The Government generally did not restrict access to the Internet; however, the Government could block foreign based Internet sites if they contravened national laws.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for freedom of assembly and association, and the Government generally respected these rights in practice.

c. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respected this right in practice.

There is no state religion; however, an historic agreement between the Catholic Church and the Government, revised in 1984, accords the Church certain privileges. For example, the Church may select Catholic religion teachers, whose earnings are paid by the State. The Constitution authorizes the State to enter into relations with non-Catholic religious confessions pursuant to an accord ("intese"), on the basis of which the Government can provide support (including financial) to the confession; these accords are voluntary, initiated by religious confessions, and do not infringe on the practice of religion. The Government has signed accords with several minority religious groups. At year's end, the Buddhist Union and Jehovah's Witnesses awaited parliamentary ratification of government accords.

The continuing presence of Catholic symbols, such as crucifixes, in many government offices, courtrooms, and other public buildings has drawn criticism and has been the subject of lawsuits. In December, the Constitutional Court ruled that a 1928 regulation that provides for the display of crucifixes in public classrooms is constitutional because the regulation does not have to be consistent with the Constitution. A mother in Venice, who asked that the crucifixes be removed, brought the case.

Muslim women are free to wear the veil in public offices and schools; however, there were occasional reports of objections to women wearing a burqah (a garment that completely covers the face and body). In August, a woman in Drezzo was fined for wearing a burqah under a seldom-used 1931 law that forbids persons from hiding their identity.

There were no violent anti-Semitic attacks, but surveys conducted by independent research centers confirmed the persistence of some societal prejudices against Judaism. The Government hosted meetings to increase educational awareness of the Holocaust and to combat anti-Semitism in Europe.

For a more detailed discussion, see the 2004 International Religious Freedom Report.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

The Constitution and the law provide for these rights, and the Government generally respected them in practice.

The law prohibits forced exile and the Government did not employ it.

The Constitution provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status in accordance with the 1951 U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees or its 1967 Protocol. In practice, the Government provided protection against refoulement, the return of persons to a country where they feared persecution. The Government granted refugee status or asylum. The Government cooperated with the office of U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees, and provided temporary protection to refugees fleeing hostilities or natural disasters. Such refugees were granted temporary residence permits, which must be renewed periodically and did not ensure future permanent residence.

In 2003, the Ministry of Interior approved approximately 725 asylum requests and denied approximately 11,280 others.

There was little government assistance for asylum seekers during the time they must spend waiting for their application to be processed; Medicin Sans Fronteres in Rome estimated that approximately 10 percent of asylum seekers had access to secondary reception facilities.

Caritas, a Catholic NGO and independent research center, estimated there were 2.6 million legal immigrants, two-thirds of whom came from Eastern Europe; experts estimated there were 500,000 illegal aliens resident in the country, and large numbers of immigrants continued to arrive from Africa, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and China.

The majority of illegal immigrants were denied entry at the border. Those who did enter, usually via the sea, were sent to temporary detention centers for processing. A new regulation requires a magistrate (previously only a Ministry of Interior representative) to determine if an immigrant will be deported (for those whose identity can be determined), issued an order to depart (for those whose identity has not been determined), or accepted for asylum processing.

During the year, 12,000 illegal immigrants were caught landing in the country, and 55,200 were either expelled or denied entry. In 2003, 27,400 illegal immigrants were held in temporary detention pending identification. Many of these immigrants entered the country with the intent to transit to other European Union (EU) countries. Most illegal immigrants paid fees to smugglers, and many risked death due to unseaworthy vessels or were forced off the vessels. At least 65 immigrants died in two separate incidents – in July, off the coast of Puglia and, in August, off the coast of Sicily. Some illegal immigrants were forced to engage in illegal activities, were paid substandard wages, or were forced to work as prostitutes to pay off debts incurred for their passage (see Section 5).

3. Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

The Constitution provides citizens with the right to change their government peacefully, and citizens exercised this right in practice through periodic, free, and fair elections held on the basis of universal suffrage. The June elections for the European Parliament were generally free and democratic. There were numerous political parties that functioned without government restrictions.

It is illegal for public employees to accept money or other advantages in return for performing public duties (punishable by 6 months' to 3 years' imprisonment) or in return for delaying or declining to perform public duties (punishable by 2 to 5 years' imprisonment). National corruption scandals of the 1990s reinforced the general belief that politicians were corrupt. In December, Prime Minister Berlusconi was acquitted of one count of bribing a judge (before he became Prime Minister) to block the sale of a food conglomerate to a business rival; the judges dropped another bribery count stating that the statute of limitations had expired. In November 2003, Berlusconi's former lawyer and one-time defense minister was sentenced to 5 years' imprisonment for bribing a judge in 1991; the judge in the case was sentenced to 8 years imprisonment; both were appealing their convictions at year's end. During the year, the Government appointed an independent task force headed by a magistrate that was charged with conducting investigations on alleged corruption in the public sector.

There were no restrictions on women or minority participation in government and politics. There were 25 women in the 315-seat Senate and 63 women in the 630-seat Chamber of Deputies; women held 2 of 25 cabinet positions. Women won 20.5 percent of the seats in the June European parliamentary elections, compared to 10.5 percent elected for the previous European Parliament.

The only legally defined minorities are linguistic – the French-speaking Valdostani and the German-speaking Altoatesini/Suditirolesi (see Section 5). During the year, there were 6 members of linguistic minorities in the 315-seat Senate and 5 in the 630-seat Chamber of Deputies. In a largely monolithic society, immigrants represented approximately 4 percent of the population, and less than half of these qualified as ethnic/racial minorities. There were no members of the new immigrant groups in either the Senate, Chamber of Deputies, or the Cabinet.

4. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

A wide variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were cooperative and responsive to their views.

5. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

The law prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, sex (except with regard to hazardous work), ethnic background, or political opinion, and provides some protection against discrimination based on disability, language, or social status; however, some societal discrimination against women, persons with disabilities, and Roma persisted.

Women

Violence against women remained a problem. The NGO Telefono Rosa, which provides a hotline through which abused women may obtain legal, medical, and other assistance, reported that 35 percent of the calls it received involved physical violence in the home; more than 41 percent of the calls involved psychological violence. During the year, the Chief Prosecutor of the Cassation Court reported that cases of sexual violence and exploitation of women and children increased by 48 percent and 28 percent respectively. Some of this increase was credited to the success of new public awareness campaigns that encouraged greater reporting of these crimes.

Legislation protects women from physical abuse, including by family members, allows for the prosecution of perpetrators of violence against women, and shields women who have been objects of attack from publicity. Law enforcement and judicial authorities were not reluctant to prosecute perpetrators of violence against women, but victims sometimes did not press charges due to fear, shame, or ignorance of the law. According to Telefono Rosa, approximately three out of four women who experienced violence declined to report it to the authorities, and one in five who did report it later withdrew their complaint.

The law treats spousal rape in the same manner as any other rape. According to the Ministry of Justice, there were 4,519 cases of rape reported in 2002. A 2002 survey conducted by the National Institute of Statistics showed that 2.9 percent of women ages 14-59 suffered rape or attempted sexual violence at least once in their lives; in 90 percent of these cases, the incident was not reported to the authorities.

Individual acts of prostitution in private residences are legal. Trafficking of women into the country for sexual exploitation remained a problem (see Section 5, Trafficking).

A 2002 survey indicated that almost 50 percent of women ages 14 to 59 were victims of sexual harassment, including sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical misconduct. In 2003, Parliament approved legislation introducing new definitions of sexual harassment and other abuses in the workplace. The law strengthens a code of conduct on workplace harassment, attached to national sectoral labor contracts.

Men and women enjoy legal equality in marriage, property, and inheritance rights and equal access and treatment with regard to education, health, and other government services.

According to a press survey, the gap between salaries for men and women narrowed during the year; however, women who held a university degree continued to earn less than men with the same qualifications. Women were underrepresented in many fields, such as management, entrepreneurial business, and the professions.

The law provides for voluntary female military service; in January, there were 1,736 women in the armed forces. There were almost 13,000 policewomen, of whom 26 were senior officers.

A number of government offices worked to ensure women's rights. A woman heads the Ministry for Equal Opportunity, and there is an equal opportunity commission in the office of the Prime Minister. The Labor Ministry has a similar commission that focuses on women's rights and discrimination in the workplace, as well as equal opportunity counselors who deal with this problem at the national, regional, and provincial government levels. However, many counselors had limited resources with which to work. Many NGOs, most of which were affiliated with labor unions or political parties, actively and effectively promoted women's rights.

Children

The Government demonstrated a strong commitment to children's rights and welfare. Schooling is free and compulsory for children from age 7 to age 18; those unable (or unwilling) to follow the academic curriculum may shift to vocational training at age 15. In 2003, the Government implemented educational reforms that were intended to reverse the middle and secondary school dropout rate, which historically has been high.

The abuse of children was a problem; during the year, the NGO Telefono Azzurro received approximately 350,000 calls related to child abuse. Approximately 6 percent of cases involved sexual abuse, 16 percent physical violence, and 12 percent psychological exploitation. In 58 percent of the cases, the victims were female; 44 percent were ages 10 or younger. In the first 6 months of the year, judicial authorities registered 349 allegations of sexual abuse against minors and accused 392 persons of abuse. Both public and private social workers counseled abused children and were authorized to take action to protect them. Telefono Azzurro maintained two toll-free hotlines for reporting incidents of child abuse.

Although there was no official data, in 2003, independent research centers estimated that there were between 1,800 and 3,000 minors who worked as street prostitutes, of whom 1,500 to 2,300 were trafficked into the country and forced into prostitution (see Section 5, Trafficking).

Police monitored approximately 29,000 websites for child pornography and related crimes. During the first half of 2003, police registered 431 complaints regarding Internet-based child pornography. In 2003, police shut down 36 pornographic websites, investigated 720 persons, and arrested 9 for disseminating child pornography.

Child labor was a problem (see Section 6.d.)

Trafficking in Persons

The country was a destination and transit point for trafficked persons; trafficking for sexual exploitation and forced labor was a problem that the Government took steps to address.

A 2003 law prohibits trafficking in persons; trafficking previously had been prosecuted using other sections of the Penal Code. The law provides for sentences of 8 to 20 years' imprisonment for trafficking in persons and for enslavement. For convictions in which the victims were minors destined for prostitution sentences were increased by one-third to one half. The law applies special prison conditions to traffickers that are designed to limit criminals' ability to continue their operations from jail. The Government also cooperated with foreign governments, including Nigeria, Ukraine, and Moldova, to investigate and prosecute trafficking cases. The number of persons investigated for trafficking increased from 1,307 in 2002 to 2,231 in 2003, and arrests increased from 209 to 328, respectively. Appeals increased from 41 to 51 but were denied 94 percent of the time.

According to the Government and an NGO, approximately 2,000 persons were trafficked in 2003, of whom 8 to 10 percent were believed to be underage. In August, the Ministry of Interior announced that 214 persons were arrested, and another 300 remained under investigation for the crimes of slavery and trafficking. For example, in May, police arrested a Romanian father who was selling his 10-year-old child for sex in the outskirts of Milan. In July, police arrested six Bulgarian men who accompanied Bulgarian women into the country who gave birth to children and then sold the babies to Italian families for $13,500 (10,000 euros) each. In September, 12 persons, including 2 policemen, were arrested in Sassari and charged with trafficking for prostitution and falsification of documents. In December, following an investigation coordinated with Brazilian authorities, four persons were accused of organizing tours to Brazil that included the sexual services of girls ages 12 to 17.

Trafficking in persons for the purpose of sexual exploitation involved immigrants, mostly from Nigeria, North Africa, Eastern Europe, China, and South America. Press reports estimated that over 85 percent of prostitutes in the country were immigrants, primarily from Eastern Europe and North Africa.

Trafficking in children for sweatshop labor was a particular problem in Tuscany's expanding Chinese immigrant community, where children were considered to be part of the family "production unit."

Victims of trafficking were usually lured to Western Europe with promises of a job, or sold by relatives, friends, or acquaintances. They were then forced into prostitution, laboring in restaurants or sweatshops, or begging in the street. Their traffickers enforced compliance by taking their documents, beating and raping them, or threatening their families. There were no reports of trafficked women being killed by their traffickers during the year.

Organized criminal groups were responsible for most trafficking in the country; prostitution rings routinely moved trafficked persons from city to city to avoid arrest. In July, police in Brescia arrested two Albanians, one Egyptian, one Pakistani, and one Italian involved in trafficking women from eastern countries for prostitution.

Government officials did not participate in, facilitate, or condone trafficking.

Victims of trafficking who were in the sex trade faced the attendant health risks resulting from unsafe or unprotected sex. Trafficking victims in the Tuscany region who worked in sweatshops were possibly exposed to dangerous chemicals in the leather industry.

The law provides temporary residence or work permits to persons who seek to escape their exploiters. Victims were encouraged to file complaints, and there are no legal impediments for them to do so. If a complaint was lodged, victims usually did not face prosecution for any laws they had broken. NGOs alleged that the Government did not allow enough time between apprehension and deportation of illegal immigrants to screen for trafficking victims.

The Government provided legal and medical assistance once a person was identified as having been trafficked. There were shelters and programs for job training. There also were assistance and incentive programs for those willing to return to their home country; in 2003, 47 victims who choose to go home were repatriated. The domestic NGO Social Service International assisted in repatriating unaccompanied immigrant minors.

The law creates a separate budgetary category for victim assistance programs and empowers magistrates to seize convicted traffickers' assets to finance legal assistance, vocational training, and other social integration assistance to trafficking victims.

The Government, in conjunction with other governments and NGOs, worked to orchestrate awareness campaigns. The law directs the Foreign Ministry, together with the Equal Opportunity Ministry, to conclude additional anti trafficking agreements with trafficking source countries.

Persons with Disabilities

There was no governmental discrimination against persons with disabilities in employment, education, access to health care, or in the provision of other state services; however, there was some societal discrimination. The law requires companies having 15 or more employees to hire workers with disabilities; in exchange, companies received financial benefits. Although the law mandates access to buildings for persons with disabilities, mechanical barriers, particularly in public transport, left such persons at a disadvantage.

According to the Government, there were approximately 2.6 million persons with disabilities representing about 5 percent of the population. Of the 500,000 workers with disabilities registered at public employment centers, only 5.8 percent found work.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

In November, the Minister for Equal Opportunities created a National Office to Combat Racial and Ethnic Discrimination to monitor and prevent discrimination and to provide victims with legal assistance. Its programs were to include a national hotline for reporting cases and public relations campaigns to discourage discrimination.

Increasing immigration led to some anti-immigrant sentiment. Since many immigrants are Muslim, religion was an additional factor differentiating them from native-born citizens. According to an International Labor Organization survey conducted during the year in three major cities, 41 percent of Moroccan immigrants believed that employers discriminated against them during the hiring process. Nevertheless, there was a high rate of employment of immigrants in low-paying jobs.

Public opinion surveys indicated that the prevalence of negative attitudes toward immigrants was increasing, especially among young persons and in the north of the country.

In 2003, a U.N. commission of independent experts underscored its grave concern over continued police mistreatment of young immigrants and Roma and recommended more extensive training for law enforcement officers working with children. In response, several municipalities established training programs devoted specifically to police in charge of public order in the Romani camps.

There were no accurate statistics on the number of Roma in the country. Romani community members and Romani-oriented NGOs estimated that the population was approximately 120,000, of whom up to 80 percent could be Italian citizens – most of whom can trace their ancestry in the country to the late 14th Century. These Roma tended to live in the central and southern parts of the country; there is no official recognition of their language. They worked and lived in conditions indistinguishable from those of other Italians.

Romani immigrants, or the children of Romani immigrants, were concentrated on the fringes of urban areas in the central and southern parts of the country, living in camps characterized by poor housing, unhygienic sanitary conditions, limited employment prospects, inadequate educational facilities and the absence of a consistent police presence. Faced with limited income and job opportunities, and suffering from harassment, some Roma turned to begging or petty crime, which generated repressive measures by police and some judicial authorities.

Some traditional minorities, including French- and German speaking Alpine communities in the north and a mixture of German and Slovene speakers in the northeast, enjoy special autonomous status. The special rights of these areas- – respectively, the Valle d'Aosta, Trentino Alto Adige, and Friuli Venezia Giulia – include the use of non-Italian languages in government offices and, in Trentino Alto Adige and Valle d'Aosta, in public schools. The law provides for Slovene to be used in government offices and schools.

6. Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The law provides for the right to establish trade unions, join unions, and carry out union activities in the workplace, and workers freely exercised these rights. The unions claimed to represent between 35 and 40 percent of the work force.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

The Constitution provides for the right of workers to organize and bargain collectively, and workers exercised this right. Approximately 35 percent of the workforce works under a union negotiated contract, but nonunion members working alongside union employees also benefited from the same contracts. The Constitution provides for the right to strike, and workers exercised this right in practice. The law restricts strikes affecting essential public services (for example, transport, sanitation, and health), requiring longer advance notification and precluding multiple strikes within days of each other.

There are no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor, including by children; however, there were reports that such practices occurred (see Section 5). Police periodically discovered clandestine Chinese immigrants working in plants throughout the country, particularly in Tuscany's large Chinese immigrant community.

d. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits the employment of children under age 15 (with some limited exceptions), and there are specific restrictions on employment in hazardous or unhealthful occupations for men under age 18 and women under age 21; however, these laws were not fully respected in practice. The enforcement of minimum age or other child protection laws was difficult in the extensive underground economy. During the year, an independent research center estimated that approximately 400,000 children worked at least occasionally, while 70,000 children worked for at least 4 hours per day. In 2002, the National Institute of Statistics (ISTAT) reported that approximately 31,500 children – a large number of whom were 14 years old and younger – worked in agriculture (mostly boys) and urban hotels, coffee bars, and restaurants (mostly girls). This child labor occurred primarily within the family, and mistreatment was not a problem. However, ISTAT stated that mistreatment and exploitation were problems for child labor that occurred outside of families, particularly for children of immigrants.

Illegal immigrant child laborers from northern Africa, the Philippines, Albania, and, particularly China, continued to enter the country in large numbers. A combination of immigration legislation and stricter enforcement operations reduced the number of Chinese immigrants working in sweatshop conditions; however, many minor children worked alongside the rest of their families to produce scarves, purses, and imitations of various brand name products.

The Government, employers' associations, and unions continued their tripartite cooperation on child labor. The Ministry of Labor, working with the police and the Carabinieri, is responsible for enforcement of child labor laws.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law does not set minimum wages, but they are set through collective bargaining agreements on a sector-by-sector basis. When an employer and a union fail to reach an agreement, courts may determine fair wages on the basis of practice in comparable activities, although this rarely happened in practice. The average daily wage provided a decent standard of living for a worker and family.

The legal workweek is 40 hours. Overtime work may not exceed 2 hours per day or an average of 12 hours per week. Unless limited by a collective bargaining agreement, the law sets maximum permissible overtime hours in industrial sector firms at no more than 80 hours per quarter and 250 hours annually.

The law sets basic health and safety standards and guidelines for compensation for on-the-job injuries. EU directives on health and safety also have been incorporated into the law. Labor inspectors were from the public health service or from the Ministry of Labor, but they were few in number in view of the scope of their responsibilities. During the year, the Ministry of Labor hired an additional 850 labor inspectors. Workers have the right to remove themselves from dangerous work situations without jeopardizing their continued employment. Courts imposed fines and sometimes prison terms for violation of health and safety laws.

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