Mafia children free to choose in Italy

Mafia children free to choose in Italy

INITIATIVE EXTENDED: Italy’s Free to Choose programme includes the Sicily and Campania regions Photo credit: CC/Ruthven

THE Italian government introduced the Free to Chooses programme enabling the Calabria authorities to take mafia children into care in 2012.

The objective was to remove them from the violent ‘Ndragheta culture and give them the opportunity to grow up in a normal environment with foster parents.

Twelve years later, the current Justice minister Carlo Nordio has extended the measure to Sicily and the Campania regions.

Calabria is the feared and powerful ‘Ndragheta organisation’s base while Sicily is home to the notorious Cosa Nostra, and Campania is Camorra territory.

In all three regions, the authorities will have the power to remove children if they can prove they are “physically or mentally endangered” by their families’ illegal activities. Parents have no power to intervene.

“This is a historic moment in the fight against the mafia,” Justice Minister Carlo Nordio said on March 27 as he signed the document that extended the programme.

Five other government ministers were present, as well as bishops from the Episcopal Conference.

“The fight against the mafias is also fought by opening new paths to generations capable of freely deciding the future they wish to live,” Nordio declared.

Roberto di Bella, the judge who founded the original programme, explained that during the 25 years when he presided a juvenile court in Calabria, he would try the sons of men who had appeared before him years earlier as adolescents. Boys even appeared in court after trying to kill their mothers when they attempted to leave their mafia husbands, Di Bella continued.

“The Free to Choose programme set out to change life trajectories that would otherwise have been inevitable,” he said.

Di Bella went on to reveal that mothers had sometimes contacted him, asking for help in protecting their children from mafia conditioning. There were even occasions when mafia dons had thanked the judge for giving their children the opportunity of leading a different life.

The courts have so far removed 150 children who are now in foster care in secret locations. In 30 cases their mothers preferred to go with them, and seven women are prepared to give evidence against their partners.

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Written by

Linda Hall

Originally from the UK, Linda is based in Valenca and is a reporter for The Euro Weekly News covering local news. Got a news story you want to share? Then get in touch at