Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law penalizes perpetrators of rape, including spousal rape, with six to 12 years in prison. The law criminalizes the physical abuse of women (including by family members), provides for the prosecution of perpetrators of violence against women, and helps shield abused women from publicity. Judicial protective measures for violence occurring within a family allow for an ex parte application to a civil court judge in urgent cases. A specific law on stalking includes mandatory detention for acts of sexual violence, including by partners. Police officers and judicial authorities prosecuted perpetrators of violence against women, but survivors frequently declined to press charges due to fear, shame, or ignorance of the law.
The COVID-19 pandemic may have both caused and masked an increase in violence against women. The pandemic at times forced women into closer proximity with their abusers, leading to greater abuse, and restrictions on movement and decreased funding for civil society organizations and agencies lowered the level of social services and hampered the reporting of cases and the delivery of assistance to victims. In one example, on April 19, a man shot and killed his partner near Milan. The two worked in different parts of northern Italy and only visited each other on weekends before the outbreak but were compelled by financial constraints to reside together during the government-mandated lockdown. The man had a history of domestic violence, with two complaints filed by his former spouse.
Between January and June, 535 women were killed by domestic partners. In April police arrested a Bangladeshi man who repeatedly raped and physically and mentally abused his wife because she refused to stop attending Italian language classes. Their minor daughter also suffered abuse and corroborated the mother’s charges.
The Department of Equal Opportunity operated a hotline for victims of violence seeking immediate assistance and temporary shelter. It also operated a hotline for stalking victims. Between March 1 and April 16, the hotline received 5,031 calls, a 73-percent increase from the same period in 2019. In an estimated 93 percent of those cases, the mistreatment occurred at home where, in 64 percent of the cases, children were present.
Sexual Harassment: Minor cases of verbal sexual harassment in public are punishable by up to six months’ incarceration and a fine. By law gender-based emotional abuse is a crime. The government effectively enforced the law. Police investigated reports of harassment.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; and to manage their reproductive health. They had access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, and violence.
No legal, social, or cultural barriers adversely affected access to contraception or to skilled health attendance during pregnancy and childbirth. Independent observers and NGOs, however, reported access to counseling and insufficient government resources limited some reproductive health services.
The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence. NGOs reported that in some cases authorities expelled undocumented foreign women who were victims of sexual violence, and that some public officers were not sufficiently trained to identify victims and refer them to services.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
Discrimination: Women have the same legal status and rights as men, and the government enforced laws prohibiting discrimination in all sectors of society and economy. Women nonetheless experienced widespread discrimination, particularly with respect to employment (also see section 7.d. regarding pay disparities between genders).
Birth Registration: A child acquires citizenship automatically when one of the parents is a citizen, when the parents of children born in the country are unknown or stateless, when parents are nationals of countries that do not provide citizenship to their children born abroad, when a child is abandoned in the country, and when the child is adopted. Local authorities require registration immediately after birth.
Child Abuse: Sexual abuse of minors is punishable by six to 24 years in prison, depending on the age of the child. Child abuse within the family is punishable by up to seven years in prison. On June 23, a court in Sardinia sentenced three adults to eight years in prison for mistreatment and violence towards a child. The child had been forced to live segregated in a dark room without a bed and was repeatedly slapped and forced to take cold showers as punishment. In 2019 there were 15,044 reports of missing minors, of whom 7,109 were foreigners. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the NGO Telefono Azzurro registered an increase in the number of calls from abused minors. The government implemented prevention programs in schools, promptly investigated complaints, and punished perpetrators.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum age for marriage is 18, but juvenile courts may authorize marriages for individuals as young as 16. Forced marriage is punishable by up to five years in prison, or six years if it involves a minor younger than 18. Forced marriage even for religious reasons is also penalized. In June the Italian embassy in Islamabad intervened to prevent the forced marriage of a 16-year-old girl with Italian citizenship to her underage cousin in Pakistan.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: Authorities enforced laws prohibiting sexual exploitation, the sale of children, offering or procuring a child for prostitution, and practices related to child pornography. Independent observers and the government estimated at least 5,000 foreign minors were victims of sexual exploitation. According to the Department of Equal Opportunity, the number of minor victims of trafficking who received assistance decreased from 215 in 2018 to 160 in 2019.
On July 20, the daily La Stampa reported the break-up of a “psycho-sect,” a child abuse ring led by a 77-year-old man that preyed on children for 30 years in Novara, Milan, and Pavia. The press reported 26 persons were under investigation.
There were reports of child pornography. In July, Florence prosecutors investigated the possession and distribution of images by Italian nationals that showed physical and sexual abuses against children in foreign countries. Police investigated six adults and 19 minors throughout 13 provinces in Italy. In 2019 Postal Police reported 650 persons allegedly involved in child sexual abuse or sexual exploitation.
Save the Children Italy reported the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated sexual exploitation and other abuses of children, because they were often forcibly abused in overcrowded apartments without health precautions and received reduced token “payment” from their abusers.
The minimum age for consensual sex is 14, or 13 if the partner is younger than 18 and the age gap is less than three years.
Displaced Children: The Ministry of the Interior reported 1,981 unaccompanied minors arrived in the country between January and August 17. As of July 31, the Ministry of Labor and Social Policies reported the presence in the country of 5,202 unaccompanied minors, of whom 95 percent were boys. It also reported 959 minors previously registered at reception centers were reported missing between January and July, putting them at risk of labor and sexual exploitation. UNICEF estimated more than 6,300 foreign unaccompanied minors were in the country at the end of 2019.
International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.
There were approximately 28,000 Jews in the country. The law criminalizes the public display of the fascist stiff-armed Roman salute and the sale or display of fascist or Nazi memorabilia. Violations can result in six months’ to two years’ imprisonment, with an additional eight months if fascist or Nazi memorabilia are sold online.
Anti-Semitic societal prejudices persisted. Some extremist fringe groups were responsible for anti-Semitic remarks and actions, including vandalism and publication of anti-Semitic material on the internet. The Observatory on Anti-Semitism of the Foundation Jewish Contemporary Documentation Center reported 143 anti-Semitic incidents between January and August 18, including the physical assault on a boy wearing a kippah who was punched from behind and spit on.
Internet hate speech and bullying were the most common forms of anti-Semitic attacks, according to the center. On August 18, the center reported 74 cases of insults on the internet and 13 cases of graffiti or vandalism against Jewish residents. Most episodes occurred during Jewish holidays or celebrations. Anti-Semitic slogans and graffiti appeared in some cities, including Milan, Bologna, and Turin. On January 24, Siena University suspended from teaching a law professor who tweeted anti-Semitic and pro-Nazi comments.
More than 2,000 police officers guarded synagogues and other Jewish community sites in the country. In January the government appointed a national coordinator to combat anti-Semitism.
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
The law protects the rights of persons with disabilities. The government enforced these provisions, but there were incidents of societal and employment discrimination. Although the law mandates access to government buildings and public transportation for persons with disabilities, physical barriers continued to pose challenges. On April 29, a Rome court found the local transportation company guilty of not repairing the escalators of a subway station in May 2019 and thereby denying a man with disabilities access to trains. On June 8, a Milan resident urged the Lombardy regional minister to reopen escalators and lifts in public stations closed to prevent the spread of COVID-19, so that she and other persons with disabilities could access public services.
On July 8, police arrested a physiotherapist who raped and mistreated a minor with disabilities in Cosenza in 2019.
Governmental and societal violence and discrimination against ethnic minorities, including Roma, Sinti, and the nomadic Caminanti, remained a problem. There were reports of discrimination based on race or ethnicity in employment (see section 7.d.).
The press and NGOs reported cases of incitement to hatred, violent attacks, forced evictions from unauthorized camps, and mistreatment by municipal authorities. In 2019 authorities reported 726 crimes of racial hatred, of which 234 were incitement to violence, 147 violations of tombs, and 93 acts of physical violence.
On July 1, local authorities announced their intention to close a Romani camp in the outskirts of Rome. By September 18, only 36 families were still waiting in the camp for alternative housing. The government suspended the closure of all camps. Such camps often had no access to drinking water, power, or sewage. Living in a segregated camp usually meant living in an overcrowded housing (seven or eight persons per trailer, shack, or shipping container) on the periphery of a town or city. Local residents and NGOs claimed that local authorities had not offered adequate and permanent housing for most of the vulnerable families.
The NGO Associazione 21 Luglio reported that in 2019, 12,700 Roma lived in 119 authorized camps in 68 municipalities, and another 7,300, mainly Romanians, lived in informal encampments, primarily in Lazio and Campania. An estimated 55 percent of persons living in authorized camps were minors; 53 percent were foreign. Their average life expectancy was 10 years lower than the rest of the population. The European Roma Rights Commission (ERRC) reported that, in most cases, no masks, hand sanitizer, or hygienic supplies were distributed to Romani camps, even those lacking access to water. The absence of supplies made it difficult, if not impossible, for Roma living there to follow recommended guidelines for preventing COVID-19. The crowded living quarters in some camps led some municipalities to quarantine entire camps rather than single, at-risk individuals.
The ERRC stated that between February and July, it recorded at least seven such evictions.
The law prohibits discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons in housing, employment, nationality laws, and access to government services and the government enforced the law effectively. NGOs advocating for the rights of LGBTI persons reported instances of societal violence, discrimination, and hate speech.
The press reported isolated cases of violence against gay and lesbian couples. On July 2, a group of teenagers and young adults verbally and physically assaulted a gay couple in a train station in Vernazza. Police arrested one of the perpetrators. When LGBTI persons reported crimes, the government investigated but in some cases failed to identify the perpetrators.