Last Updated: Friday, 27 May 2016, 08:49 GMT

U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1999 - Italy

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 25 February 2000
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1999 - Italy , 25 February 2000, available at: [accessed 27 May 2016]
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.


Italy is a longstanding, 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 leaders of all political forces in Parliament. The current Parliament was elected in free and democratic elections in April 1996. The judiciary is independent, but critics complain that some judges are politicized.

The armed forces are under the control of the Minister of Defense. Four separate police forces report to different ministerial or local authorities. Under exceptional circumstances, the Government may call on the army to provide security in the form of guard duty in certain locations, allowing the Carabinieri (military police under the control of the Minister of Interior) and local police to perform other duties. For several years, the army supported the police in Sicily and in the province of Naples, areas with high levels of organized crime. The army left Naples at the end of 1997 and Sicily in 1998 but was redeployed to both during the year. There were a number of credible reports that some local police and Carabinieri officers committed some abuses.

Italy has an advanced, industrialized market economy, and the standard of living is high. Small and midsized companies employ from 70 to 80 percent of the work force. Major products include machinery, textiles, apparel, transportation equipment, and food and agricultural products. The Government owns a substantial number of enterprises in finance, communications, industry, transportation, and services, but privatization is moving forward at a measured pace.

The Government generally respects the human rights of its citizens, and the law and the judiciary generally provide effective means of dealing with instances of individual abuse; however, there were problems in some areas. There were reports of police abuse of detainees; such accusations are investigated by the judiciary. Prisons continue to be overcrowded, and the pace of justice remains slow. Lengthy pretrial detention is a problem. The Government has taken steps to combat violence against women and child abuse. Societal discrimination against women and discrimination and sporadic violence against immigrants and other foreigners continue to be problems. Child labor persists in the underground economy but is investigated actively; a special Carabinieri unit in the Labor Inspectorate was created in July 1997 to augment investigative capabilities. Trafficking in women and girls to Italy for prostitution and forced labor is a growing problem. Trafficking to the country in children also is a problem.

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

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no reports of political or other extrajudicial killings by government officials.

On May 20, Massimo D'Antona, a senior adviser to Italy's labor minister, was shot and killed outside his home in Rome. The terrorist movement known as the Red Brigades has been linked to the killing. In a 28-page document, they singled out D'Antona because he was a notably moderate negotiator with the trade unions and a man of the center-left. The document claimed that "his neo-corporatist policy shares the aims of the imperialist bourgeoisie."

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

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

The law prohibits torture and cruel or degrading punishment; however, there were reports of isolated incidents in which police abused detainees. Amnesty International (AI), the United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC), the United Nations Committee Against Torture, and the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture regularly assess the country's judicial and prison system. According to a report issued by AI in May, there are numerous allegations of deliberately used excessive violence against individuals detained in connection with common criminal offenses or in the course of identity checks. Allegations of mistreatment relate to the time of arrest and first 24 hours in custody and concern both citizens and foreigners, with an increasing number of women appearing as alleged victims. A high proportion of the allegations received by AI concern foreign nationals, with many from Africa, as well as Roma. In May, the United Nations Committee Against Torture examined Italy's third periodic report on its implementation of the U.N. Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The committee noted positive steps taken, but also noted that further action was needed, such as ending "censor checks" on correspondence addressed to international investigating bodies by prisoners and improving human rights training for military personnel. AI has made mention that, although authorities routinely investigate complaints of mistreatment in detention, some of the investigations lack thoroughness.

In December 1998, an all-party group of more than 64 Members of Parliament submitted a bill to criminalize torture, as defined in article 1 of the U.N. Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and to set up a special fund for victims of acts of torture. In the same month, the association Antigone, which is a nongovernmental organization (NGO) that promotes the rights and guarantees of detainees, monitors the prison system, and works closely with the European Commission for Prevention of Torture, promoted a bill to introduce an "ombudsman for inmates." In January, Antigone created an ad hoc system to monitor the conditions of detention in prisons. A final report is expected by March 2000. The association is monitoring some ten leading cases involving allegations of mistreatment and torture that occurred during the year.

In 1998, a Somali witness who had been heard by the commission investigating human rights abuses committed during the 1992-93 U.N. peacekeeping operations in Somalia, was arrested and charged as a suspect in the 1993 murder of Italian journalist Ilaria Alpi. In July, he was released due to lack of evidence.

Despite the construction of new prison facilities and judicial reforms that provided for alternative penalties (such as house arrest or semi-liberty for those sentenced to less than three years' imprisonment), the country's prison population of some 52,000 continued to exceed planned capacity by approximately 15 percent. The Government recognized that continued prison overcrowding contributes to poor sanitation and strains the capacity of prison medical systems. While the percentage of prisoners addicted to illegal drugs (approximately 29 percent) remained constant from 1997 to 1998, the number of HIV positive inmates dropped from 13.6 to 10 percent in that period. However, the percentage of AIDS sufferers among HIV positive groups rose from 5.8 percent to 7.6 percent. A June law decreed that, as of January 2000, responsibility for inmate health would be shifted from the Ministry of Justice to the National Health Service, whose higher standards are expected to provide better prevention and care, especially for imprisoned drug addicts and those suffering from AIDS. In a further effort to combat the negative effects of AIDS on the prison population, parliament passed a law in July prohibiting the preventive detention or imprisonment of anyone suffering from AIDS or other serious illnesses for which treatment in prison would be inadequate. Those accused or judged guilty of crimes are now to be given a form of house arrest, which may involve treatment at a hospital or other care facility. In 1998, there were 51 suicides in the country's prisons.

The Government permits the independent monitoring of prison conditions by parliamentarians, local human rights groups, the media, and other organizations.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

Detainees are allowed prompt and regular access to lawyers of their choosing (although occasional lapses in this general rule have been alleged) and to family members. If detainees are indigent, the State provides a lawyer. Within 24 hours of being detained, the examining magistrate must decide whether there is enough evidence to proceed to 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. The U.N. Human Rights Committee, the treaty monitoring body for the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), recommended that this 5-day period be reduced and that all detainees have access to legal advice immediately upon arrest. Notwithstanding the procedural rules and protections that exist, abuses can occur. In March, the Justice Minister apologized to an illiterate Somali woman, Abade Khalil Mudhir (also known as Sharifa), who was arrested in Milan in May 1998 and accused of trafficking children (two minors were traveling with her), deprived of her children, and kept in prison until December 1998. She was released when evidence was found proving her innocence.

Preventive detention can be imposed only as a last resort, or if there is clear and convincing evidence of a serious offense, such as crimes involving the Mafia, or those related to drugs, arms, or subversion. 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 3 years of age, persons over 70 years of age, or those who are seriously ill. Preventive custody can be imposed only for crimes punishable by a maximum sentence of not less than 4 years.

Magistrates' interrogations of persons in custody must be recorded on audio tape or video tape to be admissible in judicial proceedings. Prosecutors are required to include all evidence favorable to the accused in requests for preventive detention. The defense may present any favorable evidence directly to the court.

There is no provision for bail, but 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 and rule whether continued detention is warranted. However, in view of the three-level court system (see Section 1.e.), those persons in preventive detention do not include just those awaiting trial; many such detainees are awaiting the outcome of a first or second appeal. The Constitution and the law provide for restitution in cases of unjust detention.

The law prohibits punishment by internal exile or exile abroad.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary and the Government respects this provision in practice. The judiciary provides citizens with a fair judicial process.

There are three levels of courts, the lowest of which used to consist of three subdivisions: the Praetor Court (offenses punishable by monetary fines or less than 4 years' imprisonment), the Court of Assizes (offenses punishable by more than 24 years' imprisonment), and the Tribunal Court (offenses that fall between the jurisdiction of the Praetor and Assizes Courts). The second level involves two appeals courts, one for civil cases and one for penal 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 correct application of the law, not a case's merit. A law approved in 1998 provided for merging the Praetor and Assizes Courts, decriminalizing certain provisions in existing law, and other reforms to restructure and expedite the judicial process. The measure's civil provisions were implemented in June; changes in criminal proceedings were to take force on January 2, 2000.

The law provides for trials to be fair and public, and the authorities observe these provisions. 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 government-held evidence is normally made available to defendants and their attorneys. Defendants can appeal verdicts to the highest appellate court.

Cumbersome procedures slow the pace of justice. The National Statistical Institute (ISTAT) reported the average duration of lower court trials (civil cases) at 3 years and 4 months. The length of trials varies by region; those in the north are shorter than those in the south. A 1998 UNHRC report noted that provisions of the ICCPR concerning promptness of trials were not always respected, citing the case of 10 police officers charged in 1990 in connection with the 1985 death of a man following severe mistreatment in a police station. Since 1990 the case has been tried, appealed, and retried several times. In 1997 the Court of Cassation ordered another retrial, and the case is still open. In July, the European Court for Human Rights again criticized Italy for four cases of lengthy civil trials lasting from 5 to 13 years. Italy had to pay defendant expenses and damages. However, in the same month the Council of Europe decided to postpone decisions concerning the status of the judiciary, following the Justice Minister's request to give the ongoing restructuring process time to adjust.

Since 1991 public prosecutors have conducted sweeping investigations of corruption among the political and economic elites, and in the judiciary. However, critics complain that some investigating magistrates are influenced by political or other interests in choosing targets of inquiry, or fail to show adequate respect for the rights of suspects. Those making these charges point to judicial processes brought against former Prime Ministers Giulio Andreotti and Silvio Berlusconi. Two separate trials, in which prosecutors relied heavily on testimony by Mafia witnesses ("pentiti") ended in acquittals for Andreotti. Further charges by prosecutors who had previously brought cases against Berlusconi for tax fraud, corruption, and "cooking the books" of his various enterprises drew an angry retort, as Berlusconi accused them of being "the armed wing of the left." The July 1998 UNHRC report noted that lengthy preventive detention (which in certain serious offenses is permitted for up to 6 years) may constitute a violation of the right to a presumption of innocence and the principle of a prompt and fair trial. However, an April 1998 decision of the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the 31-month preventive detention of a person accused of collusion with an organized crime organization was lawful.

There were no reports of political prisoners.

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

The law safeguards the privacy of the home, and the authorities respect this provision. Searches and electronic monitoring may be carried out only under judicial warrant and in carefully defined circumstances. Violations are subject to legal sanctions.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The law provides for freedom of speech and the press, and the Government respects these rights in practice. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combine to ensure freedom of speech and of the press, including academic freedom.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Government does not restrict the right of peaceful assembly, including protests against government policies, except in cases where national security or public safety is at risk. Permits are not required for meetings, but organizers of public demonstrations must notify the police in advance. Professional associations organize and operate freely. While allowing general freedom of association, the Constitution and law prohibit clandestine associations, those that pursue political aims through force, that incite racial, ethnic or religious discrimination, or that advocate fascism.

c. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government respects this right in practice. The Government subsidizes several religions through tax revenue collection. Taxpayers who choose to do so can donate a percentage of their income tax payment to the Roman Catholic, Adventist, Waldensian, Baptist, and Lutheran churches, the Assembly of God or the Jewish community. Other religious groups, including Buddhists and Muslims, have initiated the procedures necessary to obtain this benefit.

Nontraditional religious groups are free to practice their beliefs and proselytize, provided that they respect public order and general moral standards. In August 1997 the Court of Cassation annulled a lower court decision that Scientology was not a religion, finding that the lower court was not competent to rule on what constitutes a religion. The Court of Cassation found further that the issue of whether Scientology constitutes a religion must be readdressed by another court of appeal, in accordance with criteria established by the Constitutional Court.

Roman Catholicism is not the state religion but it is the dominant one, in the sense that most citizens were born and raised under Catholic principles, which form part of their culture. Roman Catholic religious instruction is offered in public schools as an optional subject. Students who do not opt to attend can elect to take an alternative course or, in some schools, have a free class period. A 1929 agreement between the Catholic Church and Italy, which was revised in 1984, accords the Church certain privileges. For example, the Church can select Catholic religion teachers, whose earnings are paid by the State. This privilege has led to charges of unconstitutional discrimination. For example, in February a teacher of religion was fired by the Curia of Florence for being pregnant while unmarried.

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

The Constitution and the Law provide for these rights, and the Government respects them in practice. Citizens who leave are ensured the right to return. The Constitution forbids deprivation of citizenship for political reasons. Parliament has not yet repealed the XIII transitory provision of the 1946 constitution, which forbids male heirs of the former king, Umberto I of Savoy, from entering Italy. For this reason, on December 13 royal descendant Vittorio Emanuele IV filed a suit in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg challenging the validity of this constitutional bar.

Political asylum is obtained according to the 1951 U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. Amnesty International has noted that Italy still lacks a specific law on political asylum, but one is pending before Parliament. The immigration law passed in February 1998 levied high fines and penalties for land, air, and sea carriers that board passengers without documentation. In 1998, 7,674 persons applied for asylum, of whom 1,045 were found eligible.

The Government cooperates with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations assisting refugees. It provides first asylum to refugees fleeing hostilities or natural disasters. Such refugees are granted temporary residence permits, which must be renewed periodically and do not ensure future permanent residence.

According to Caritas, an organization associated with the Catholic Church's Episcopal Commission, as of November some 24,000 immigrants "for humanitarian reasons" held a work permit. Also as of November, the number of refugees and asylum seekers (including minors) was about 7,700. In the wake of hostilities in Kosovo, Italy agreed to provide temporary protected status to as many as 10,000 Kosovars who had sought refuge in Macedonia. Italy airlifted almost 6,000 Kosovars to an inactive military base in Sicily. Most were returned home after hostilities ceased in June, while a small minority was to be resettled in other countries. In the immediate aftermath of the conflict, some 7,000 ethnic Roma entered Italy, of whom 3,500 were granted temporary protected status before the interior minister rescinded this provision. The remaining 3,500 Roma are being considered for political asylum on a case by case basis. However, additional Roma continued to arrive in southern Italy from the Balkans. In February the Government rescinded an earlier decree granting humanitarian protection to Somali immigrants.

The Commission on Foreigners in Italy estimates that hundreds of thousands of persons live in the country in irregular status. Caritas sets the number of irregular foreigners (as of December 1998) at 320,000. After his arrival in Italy in November 1998, Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Ocalan filed a request for political asylum. Ocalan left Italy in January, but his asylum request remained active and was processed through normal judicial channels. In October a court in Rome granted Ocalan political asylum.

There were no reports of the forced expulsion of any person having a valid claim to refugee status.

Section 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 exercise this right in practice through periodic, free, and fair elections held on the basis of universal suffrage.

There are no restrictions on women's participation in government and politics; however, few women hold elected office: women hold 6 of 25 cabinet positions, 24 of 325 Senate seats, and 69 of 630 seats in the Chamber of Deputies. A new association for women, EMILY Italia, was founded recently to promote increased participation of women in politics.

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

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

Section 5. Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

The law prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, sex (except with regard to hazardous work), religion, ethnic background, or political opinion, and provides some protection against discrimination based on disability, language, or social status. However, societal discrimination persists to some degree.


Violence against women remains a problem. Media reports of violence against women are common. In its annual report on violence against women, Telefono Rosa stated that 55.5 percent of the cases reported nationally included physical violence, an increase of 9.5 percent over the previous 2 years. An investigation conducted by the Rome police and the NGO Telefono Rosa reported 6,522 cases of domestic violence against women in Rome in 1997. A 1998 ISTAT survey (the first one nationwide) reported that at least 9.4 million women between the ages of 14 and 59 had experienced some form of sexual violence during their lives.

Legislation to protect women from physical abuse, including by family members, was updated and strengthened in 1996. The revised law makes the prosecution of perpetrators of violence against women easier and shields women who have been objects of attack from publicity. The law treats spousal rape the same as any other rape. Law enforcement and judicial authorities are not reluctant to bring perpetrators of violence against women to justice, but victims sometimes do not press charges due to fear, shame, or ignorance of the law. The Telefono Rosa report noted that the entry of more women into the police force has contributed greatly to increased cooperation by female victims of violence. The Government provides a hot line through which abused women can obtain legal, medical, and other assistance. Women's associations also maintain several shelters for battered women.

In 1996 a Basilicata court convicted a 40-year-old driving instructor of raping an 18-year-old student. An appeals court upheld this conviction in March 1998. In February the Court of Cassation (which rules on questions of law, not merit) annulled the appeals court decision, ruling that since it was physically impossible to remove tight jeans from a woman without her consent, the defendant could not be convicted of "rape." The Court's ruling attracted widespread press comment and criticism. Several female Members of Parliament wore jeans to the Chamber, as a visible symbol of protest.

Telefono Rosa reported that sexual harassment in the workplace decreased in 1997 and concluded that ad hoc provisions against sexual harassment in national labor contracts worked as a deterrent in both the public and private sectors. Nevertheless, at least 728,000 women report having been victims of workplace harassment at least once in their lives; 236,000 experienced this problem in the last 3 years.

Trafficking in illegal immigrant women and girls for prostitution and forced labor is a growing problem (see Section 6.f.).

Women enjoy legal equality with men in marriage, property, and inheritance rights. Males and females enjoy equal access and treatment with regard to education, health, and other government services. Many NGO's actively and effectively promote women's rights. Most are affiliated with labor unions or political parties.

A number of government offices work to ensure women's rights. The Ministry for Equal Opportunity is headed by a woman. In addition, there is an equal opportunity commission in the office of the Prime Minister. The Labor Ministry has a similar commission that focused 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 have limited resources with which to work.

In February, the European Union directive regulating night work for women was incorporated into the law, thus amending the 1977 law that had prohibited night shifts for women. Liberal maternity leave, introduced to benefit women, adds to the cost of employing them, with the result that employers sometimes find it advantageous to hire men instead.

According to research conducted by the CGIL Labor Institute, women's salaries are 20 percent lower than men's for comparable work. They are underrepresented in many fields, such as management and the professions. According to data released by the Minister of Interior, only 10 percent of the Ministry's work force consists of women. The National Council for Economy and Labor (CNEL) reports that in 1998, 3 percent of executives in large firms were women, a figure that rose to 5 percent in mid-size firms and 8 percent in small firms. Employed women are more likely to have a high school diploma (34.7 percent) than employed men (28.5 percent). The comparable figures for a university degree are 13.8 percent for women and 9.4 percent for men. The number of firms created by women has increased 103 percent in 12 years, for a total of 9.1 million firms. Although women's participation in the work force is increasing more rapidly than men's, unemployment figures show that women still are lagging. In 1999 male unemployment was 9.6 percent, while female unemployment was 16.8 percent. Youth unemployment (ages 15 to 24) was 30.2 percent for men (53.5 in the south) and 39.0 percent for women (66.9 in the south).


The Government demonstrates a strong commitment to children's rights and welfare. As of academic year 1999-2000, schooling is 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. This reform is intended to reverse the middle and secondary school dropout rate, which has been high.

Abuse of children is recognized as a societal problem. Social workers counsel abused children and are authorized to take action to protect them. The NGO Telefono Azzurro maintains two toll-free hot lines for reporting incidents of child abuse. Research conducted on behalf of the Government by a private institute estimated that the number of minors involved in cases of violence (including prostitution) was 10,000 to 12,000. There were 1,880 to 2,500 minors who worked as street prostitutes, of whom 1,500 to 2,300 were trafficked illegal immigrants (predominantly Albanians, and some Nigerians), many of whom were forced into prostitution. An estimated 90 percent of violence against minors is committed within their own families.

In August 1998, Parliament passed a law to combat pedophilia, child pornography, the possession of pornographic material involving children, sex tourism involving minors, and trafficking in children (see also Section 6.f.).

People with Disabilities

The law forbids discrimination against disabled persons in employment, education, or in the provision of state services. The law requires enterprises with more than 35 employees to hire the disabled to staff 15 percent of their work force, directs that public buildings be made accessible to persons with disabilities, and stipulates a number of specific rights for the disabled. Compliance with these requirements, however, is still incomplete.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Immigrants and other foreigners face societal discrimination. Some are subjected to physical attack. Roma encounter difficulties in finding places to reside. Sedentary Roma have more success in receiving equal treatment in the workplace and in the housing market. Nomadic Roma tend to live in camps and to have more difficulty in these areas. Based on EU figures, a local NGO estimates that there are approximately 100,000 Roma in the country (0.2 percent of the population). Data from the municipality of Rome refer to some 5,000 Roma in the city, housed in 35 camps. Neonatal mortality in Roma camps is four times higher than the national average. Immigrant Roma, predominantly from states of the former Yugoslavia, often are precluded from obtaining residence or work permits because they do not possess valid identity documents from their country of origin, and can be deported. With no legal source of income available, they often turn to begging or petty crime. The interests of Roma and other immigrants are represented by over 130 NGO's, such as Caritas; however, these have funding difficulties. In March, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) urged the Government to strengthen its efforts for preventing and prosecuting incidents of racial intolerance and discrimination against some foreigners and Roma, as well as of bad treatment of foreigners and Roma in detention.

Racism Survey, an organization located in Milan, compiles a record of racist incidents. According to this group, in 1997 there were 668 cases of racial discrimination, violence, and intolerance. On June 21, an angry mob attacked four Roma camps in Naples and torched their caravans after a traffic accident that involved a Roma driver and severely wounded two girls, relatives of a local organized crime boss.

Section 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. Some 40 percent of the workforce is organized. Trade unions are free of government controls and no longer have formal ties with political parties. The right to strike is embodied in the Constitution and is frequently exercised. A 1990 law restricts strikes affecting essential public services such as transport, sanitation, and health. Nonetheless, during a year in which the overall number of work-hours lost to labor disputes was relatively low, strikes occurred in several public service sectors, especially air and ground transportation.

Unions associate freely with international trade union organizations.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

The Constitution provides for the right of workers to organize and bargain collectively, and these rights are respected in practice. By custom, although not by law, national collective bargaining agreements apply to all workers, regardless of union affiliation. The law prohibits discrimination by employers against union members and organizers. It requires employers that have more than 15 employees and who are found guilty of antiunion discrimination to reinstate any workers affected. In firms with less than 15 workers, an employer must provide the grounds for firing a union employee in writing. If a judge deems the grounds spurious, he can order the employer to reinstate or compensate the worker.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor, including that performed by children, and generally it does not occur; however, some illegal immigrants and children were forced into prostitution (see Section 5), and trafficking in illegal immigrant women for prostitution and forced labor, as well as trafficking in illegal immigrant children, are problems (see Section 6.f.).

d. Status of Child Labor Practices and Minimum Age for Employment

The law forbids the employment of children under age 15 (with some limited exceptions). There also are specific restrictions on employment in hazardous or unhealthful occupations for men under age 18, and women under age 21. The enforcement of minimum age laws is difficult in the extensive underground economy. Estimates of the number of child laborers differ, ranging from 30,000 to 300,000 (the most probable figure may be in the area of 50,000). Most of these cases involve immigrants, but instances involving Italian children also have been reported. Illegal immigrant child laborers from Northern Africa, the Philippines, Albania, and especially China have entered in record numbers every year since 1989, and the influx from China is rising. According to the Carabinieri, an estimated 30,000 illegal Chinese work in sweatshop conditions near Florence, with many minor children working alongside the rest of their families to produce scarves, purses, and imitations of various brand name products. Many of these factories are run by an emerging Chinese mafia in Italy, and are equipped with escape tunnels to thwart labor inspectors.

Following the United Nations-sponsored Oslo International Conference in November 1997, the Government, employers associations, and unions signed a charter in April that included: the extension of compulsory education; better enforcement of school attendance regulations; programs to reduce the number of school dropouts; more prompt assistance to families in financial difficulty; further restrictions on exceptions to the minimum age law; and cancellation of all economic or administrative incentives for companies found to make use of child labor, including abroad. The Prime Minister's office provided a toll-free telephone number to report incidents of child labor. The footwear and textile industries have established a code of conduct that prohibits the use of child labor in their international as well as national activities, applicable to subcontractors as well. For the first time, a child labor clause was attached to the national labor contract in the health sector, whereby the parties committed themselves not to use surgical tools produced by child labor. The law forbids forced or bonded labor involving children, and the Government generally enforces this prohibition effectively; however, some illegal immigrant children were forced into prostitution (see Sections 5 and 6.c.), and some of them were trafficked (see Section 6.f.).

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Minimum wages are not set by law, but rather by collective bargaining agreements. These specify minimum standards to which individual employment contracts must conform. When an employer and a union fail to reach an agreement, courts may step in to determine fair wages on the basis of practice in comparable activities or agreements.

A 1997 law reduced the legal workweek from 48 hours to 40. Most collective agreements provide for a 36- to 38-hour workweek. The average contractual workweek is 39 hours but is actually less in many industries. Overtime work may not exceed 2 hours per day or an average of 12 hours per week.

The law sets basic health and safety standards and guidelines for compensation for on-the-job injuries. For most practical purposes, European Union directives on health and safety also have been incorporated into the law. Labor inspectors are from the public health service or from the Ministry of Labor. They are few in number, given the scope of their responsibilities. Courts impose fines and sometimes prison terms for violation of health and safety laws. In 1998 some 60 percent of Rome construction sites were cited for safety violations. Workers have the right to remove themselves from dangerous work situations without jeopardizing their continued employment.

f. Trafficking in Persons

Trafficking in women and girls for prostitution and forced labor to Italy is a growing problem. With few exceptions, this crime is perpetrated on vulnerable, illegal immigrants. The women and girls, usually from Albania, Nigeria, and Eastern Europe, are reluctant to contact the police for assistance. According to a 1997 Caritas report, the number of foreign women involved in prostitution then was around 25,000, a figure that has increased due to developments in Kosovo. According to the Ministry of Equal Opportunity, the number of foreign women estimated to be involved in prostitution varies between 30,000 and 35,000. Of these, Parsec (a social research institution) estimates that 1,000 to 1,500 were trafficked forcibly. In December 1997, police broke up a Milan ring that was holding auctions in which women abducted from the countries of the former Soviet Union were put on blocks, partially naked, and sold at an average price of just under $1,000.

A February 1998 immigration law provided women involved in prostitution with an avenue of escape by granting temporary residence/work permits to those who turn in their exploiters. However, regulations implementing this law were not finalized until the summer. The legislation permits a temporary stay for victimized women. During this time, victims are provided with shelter, benefits, and services such as counseling and medical assistance, in cooperation with NGO's. They also may be permitted to work or study. If the victim agrees to cooperate with law enforcement and judicial authorities, the residence permit and services are extended for the length of the criminal proceedings. As a result of these and related policies, significant increases in witness testimony and successful prosecution of traffickers have been reported.

In August 1998, a law was passed to combat abuses against children, including trafficking in children.

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