Country Reports on Human Rights Practices
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
February 25, 2004

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. Parliamentary elections in 2001 were considered 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.

Civilian authorities maintained effective control of the security forces. 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. There were allegations that police 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 a few problems in some areas, the law and judiciary provided effective means of dealing with individual instances of abuse. There were some reports of police abuse of detainees and use of excessive force against ethnic minorities. 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. Sporadic violence against immigrants and other foreigners continued to be a problem. Child labor, primarily involving immigrant children, continued in the underground economy, but authorities investigated such reports actively. Trafficking in persons into the country, particularly women and girls for prostitution, was a problem, which the Government took steps to address.


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

a. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life

There were no political killings; however, off-duty policemen killed two people, including a 13-year old boy, during separate attempted robberies of each officer, one in January and the other in July. Both cases remained under investigation at year's end.

In September, a magistrate dismissed charges against a policeman under investigation for killing a 28-year-old man who had attempted to rob him in 2002.

In May, the investigating magistrate dismissed charges against a policeman who shot and killed a rioting demonstrator during protests against the 2001 G-8 summit in Genoa, ruling that the policeman had acted in self-defense.

Police continued to investigate the 1999 and 2002 killings of two academic advisors to the Labor Ministry by the new Red Brigades--Communist Combatant Party, a domestic terrorist movement. In March, police arrested a leader of the group during a routine document check. During the arrest, another member and a policeman were killed during a gunfight.

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, there were reports of incidents in which police abused detainees. According to Amnesty International (AI) and the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Antgone, which monitors 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 January, 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 March, social activists claimed police used excessive force while trying to clear approximately 100 activists from a Milan emergency room waiting area. The activists had been attempting to claim the body of a friend who had just died as the result of a knife wound received in an unrelated criminal altercation. One policeman and five activists remained under investigation.

In September, magistrates issued preliminary indictments charging 73 policemen, including a number of senior officers, with perjury, conspiracy, or assault in connection with a 2001 police raid at the headquarters for the Genoa Social Forum during G-8 summit protests. Magistrates determined that some police had colluded to manufacture evidence and to claim violent resistance from demonstrators to justify their use of force during the raid. Over half those indicted faced charges in connection with "inhuman or degrading treatment," including assault, during the subsequent detention of those protestors. In May, the magistrate dismissed all charges against demonstrators who had been arrested during the raid for lack of evidence.

Overcrowded and antiquated prisons continued to be a problem. There were 56,500 detainees incarcerated in a prison system designed to hold 42,100. Older facilities lacked outdoor or exercise space, compounding the difficulties of close quarters; some prisons lacked adequate medical care. Approximately 61 percent of detainees were serving sentences; the other 39 percent consisted mainly of persons awaiting trial or the outcome of an appeal. Seventy-two prisoners died while in jail during the first 6 months of the year; 23 committed suicide.

In August, Parliament approved a Clemency Law that reduces by 2 years the sentences of those convicted of minor offenses who had served at least half of their sentence. Approximately 6,500 prisoners were expected to be released early under the provision.

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. 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.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

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 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. Both the Government and the judiciary investigated abuses and prosecuted police who mistreated persons in custody. In June, prosecutors charged 31 policemen with unlawful imprisonment and assault based on evidence of their conduct during violent anti-globalization protests in Naples in 2001 (see Section 1.c.). Allegations of corruption were rare.

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 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.

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 drugs, arms, or subversion) 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 3 years of age, persons over 70 years of age, or those who are seriously ill. Preventive custody may be imposed only for crimes punishable by a maximum sentence of not less than 4 years. 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. Magistrates' interrogations of persons in custody must be recorded on audio tape or videotape to be admissible in judicial proceedings.

The law prohibits forced exile--either internal or abroad--and the Government did not employ it.

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 involve long trial delays, and the impact of organized crime on the criminal justice system complicated the judicial process.

The judiciary is comprised of professional magistrates who are selected through competitive exams, and generally advance through seniority. Magistrates function either as prosecutors (the executive branch does not perform prosecutorial functions) or trial and appellate judges. It is not unusual for magistrates to switch between these functions over the course of their career. The Superior Council of the Magistracy (CSM) governs the judiciary. Magistrates select two-thirds of its members; the rest are selected by Parliament.

There are three levels of courts. A single judge hears cases at the level of courts of first instance. At the second level, separate courts hear appeals for 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.

Prosecutors may appeal unfavorable court verdicts, including sentences they deem too lenient. The Constitution gives prosecutors broad latitude to investigate filed complaints and media reports of crimes. Since magistrates cannot investigate every report of a crime, this allows them to set their own investigative priorities.

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. During the year, the European Court of Human Rights issued 148 judgments against the Government for excessively long proceedings, approximately 20 percent of the court's 703 judgments.

Observers cited several reasons for delays: The absence of effective limits on the length of pre-trial 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 some prosecutors' decisions to devote inordinate resources to a small number of cases); and insufficient resources, including an inadequate number of judges.

A 2001 law reduced a prosecutor's procedural advantages during trials and addressed problems created by abuses of some anti-Mafia measures, most notably those involving "pentiti," or Mafia informants.

Despite these reforms, organized crime cases continued to generate controversy. In May, an appellate court reaffirmed the 1999 acquittal of former Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti of charges of association with the mafia. Prosecutors had pursued the case primarily on the basis of pentiti allegations.

The Government continued to press for changes in the judiciary, citing an aim to improve judicial effectiveness and efficiency, despite strong opposition from the magistrates and opposition parties. These proposals include: Reducing magistrates' ability to switch between the trial judge and prosecutor career tracks, tying magistrates' advancement to merit rather than seniority, and having Parliament set priorities for categories of crimes to be prosecuted.

In July, Parliament passed legislation granting immunity from prosecution while in office to the country's five highest-ranking public servants, including the prime minister. Following the legislation's passage, the presiding magistrates suspended Prime Minister Berlusconi's remaining trial associated with his business activities prior to assuming office, although they continued proceedings against his co-defendants. Critics charged the legislation was designed to extricate Prime Minister Berlusconi from his remaining trial; supporters claimed the legislation was necessary to protect senior officials from magistrates attempting to use the courts to pursue political objectives.

In the first test of 2002 legislation restoring a legal provision that allowed defendants to request a change of venue if they had "legitimate suspicion" of bias by the trial judge, the presiding magistrates denied a member of Parliament's request to change his trial venue; the member subsequently was convicted of bribery. This ruling, and Justice Ministry inspections in the spring of the Milan procuracy's operations, generated additional controversy, as governing and opposition parties traded charges of using the legislative process and elements of the judiciary to pursue personal or political objectives.

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, after September 11, 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.

In November, Parliamentary leaders criticized prosecutors for divulging the identities of three members of Parliament mentioned, during police wiretaps, by suspects under investigation for narcotics and prostitution crimes. In 2002, members of Parliament and the media criticized the autonomous judiciary for its extensive use of wiretaps to investigate how journalists acquired leaked information.

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 with requirements.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The law provides for freedom of speech and of the press, including academic freedom, and the Government generally respected these rights in practice. However, the autonomous judiciary was sensitive to investigative leaks and press criticism and imposed fines for defamation (see Section 1.f.).

After magistrates authorized search warrants in 2002 against some journalists in connection with leaks of sensitive information, political leaders and the journalists' union criticized the searches, calling them serious offenses against freedom of the press. Critics noted the contradiction between separate laws maintaining the sanctity of journalists' sources and another authorizing magistrates to carry out investigations against journalists' sources.

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 has a major interest) owned three, and the state-owned network (RAI) controlled the other three. In December, President Ciampi declined to sign legislation relaxing restrictions on ownership of national broadcast media properties and on cross-ownership of broadcast and print media companies in the same market. After Parliament's earlier passage of the legislation, critics had charged that the new law retroactively sanctioned the Berlusconi family's dominance of national private broadcast media and eliminated obstacles to its continued infiltration into additional markets. RAI's three channels 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. The 2002 RAI governing board's decision to cancel three programs that regularly featured content critical of Prime Minister Berlusconi continued to be debated publicly. In July, an appellate court partially overturned a lower court decision that had directed RAI to resume broadcasting a program featuring one of the journalists. In November, RAI suspended a satirical show whose content had prompted complaints from the Jewish community regarding the host's use of anti-Semitic language and a defamation suit filed by rival network Mediaset. Critics charged that the suspension amounted to censorship.

Politicians and their supporters filed many defamation suits during the year. The costs to major publications resulting from legal fees and the settlement of lawsuits by successful plaintiffs amounts to an estimated several million dollars annually. In June, magistrates began defamation proceedings against two prominent journalists in connection with their criticism of legal proceedings against former Prime Minister Andreotti (see section 1.e.).

The Government generally did not restrict access to the Internet, although the 2001 High Court ruling that allowed the Government to block foreign-based Internet sites if they contravened national laws remained in effect.

The Government did not restrict academic freedom.

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.

A historical 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 November, an appellate court overturned an October ruling by a court in L'Acquila ordering a local public school to remove crucifixes from its classrooms. Government ministers, senior representatives of many faiths, including that of the plaintiff, and many citizens criticized the initial ruling.

For a more detailed discussion, see the 2003 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 Constitution prohibits the deprivation of citizenship for political reasons. Citizens who leave are ensured the right to return.

The Constitution provides for the granting of asylum and refugee status to persons who meet the definition in the 1951 U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol. In practice, the Government provided protection against refoulement and granted refugee status and asylum. The Government cooperated with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) 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 2002, the Ministry of Interior approved approximately 1,270 asylum requests and denied approximately 15,750 others. Fifty percent of approved requests involved nationals of Sri Lanka, Iraq, and Turkey.

There was little state help 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.

Large numbers of illegal immigrants from Eastern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, China, and West Africa continued to arrive in the country, primarily by sea. According to Caritas, the number of legal immigrants increased by approximately 43 percent during the year, a consequence of 2002 legislation that provided a grace period in which illegal immigrants could become legal residents. In 2002, 23,700 illegal immigrants were detained, a 12 percent decrease from 2001. 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 42 died in 2 eparate incidents in September off the coast. Some illegal immigrants were forced to engage in illegal activities, were paid substandard wages, or forced to work as prostitutes to pay off debts incurred for their passage (see Section 6.f.).

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 exercised this right in practice through periodic, free, and fair elections held on the basis of universal suffrage. May 2001 Parliamentary elections were free and democratic. There were numerous political parties that functioned without government restrictions.

There were no restrictions on women's or minorities' 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.

In June, citizens residing abroad were able to vote for the first time in a national referendum, following a 2000 constitutional change allowing them to participate.

Section 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.

There were government human rights organizations in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Prime Minister's office, and the Privacy Authority. The Senate also had a committee on human rights.

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

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.

In February, Parliament amended the Constitution to incorporate the principle of equal opportunity and to direct the government to undertake appropriate measures to guarantee equal opportunities to men and 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 33 percent of calls it received involved physical violence in the home, a decline from 37 percent in 2002. Thirty-five percent of the cases involved psychological violence and 13 percent economic violence; 85 percent of the total cases involved repeat instances of violence.

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 are 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. However, Telefono Rosa also noted that the entry of more women into the police force contributed greatly to a willingness of female victims of violence to cooperate with police. The law treats spousal rape in the same manner as any other rape.

Individual acts of prostitution in private residences are legal. Trafficking of women into the country for prostitution remained a problem (see Section 6.f.).

In September, Parliament approved new legislation introducing new definitions of sexual harassment and other abuses in the workplace. The new law strengthens a code of conduct on workplace harassment, attached to national sectoral labor contracts, agreed to in 1999 between the Labor Ministry and major trade union confederations.

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.

As a result of liberal maternity leave laws introduced to benefit women, some employers have found it advantageous to hire men instead. The law requires civil service recruiters to explain in writing their motives for hiring or promoting a man rather than a woman as a manager. The rule applies in offices where women managers number less than a third of the total. A 2002 study indicated that women constituted 51 percent of civil servants, but only 24 percent had high-level assignments.

The law regulates night work for pregnant women who are mothers of one or more children below the age of 3 and women with disabilities.

According to research conducted in 2001 by an independent research center, women's salaries were 26.6 percent lower than men's for comparable work. Women were underrepresented in many fields, such as management, entrepreneurial business, and the professions. In public education, women represented 80 percent of the personnel but only 22 percent of general directors, 37 percent of executives, 33 percent of inspectors, and 33 percent of union members. At the end of 2002, the National Statistical Institute (ISTAT) reported that employed women were more likely to have a high school diploma (52 percent) than employed men (41 percent). Employed women did better in higher education; the comparable figures for a university degree were 14.4 percent for women and 10.9 percent for men. In October, 11.4 percent of females were unemployed, compared with 6.6 percent of males. Youth unemployment (ages 15 to 24) was 24.7 percent for men and 31.4 percent for women.

Women have been integrated quickly into the military ranks; in March, there were 1,652 women in the armed forces. The law provides for voluntary female military service.

A number of government offices worked to ensure women's rights. The Ministry for Equal Opportunity is headed by a woman, 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.


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. This reform was intended to reverse the middle and secondary school dropout rate, which historically has been high. Education Ministry figures on dropout rates suggested that close to 99 percent of children attended school through middle school.

The abuse of children was a problem; the NGO Telefono Azzurro received approximately 195,000 calls related to child abuse during the first half of the year. It was estimated that 60 percent of violence against minors was committed within the home. According to a survey by Telefono Azzurro, 608 cases in the first half of the year involved sexual violence, physical or psychological abuse, and negligence; fathers were responsible 45.6 percent of the time; mothers were responsible 37.2 percent, and relatives 7 percent. In 57.8 percent of the cases, the victims were female; 41 percent were ages 10 or younger. In the first 7 months of the year, judicial authorities registered 425 allegations of sexual abuse against minors. 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. Estimates from 2000 by a private institute estimated that the number of minors involved in cases of violence (including prostitution) was between 10,000 and 12,000.

There were between 1,880 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 6.f.).

Police reported that they monitored 23,900 websites for child pornography and related crimes. During the first half of the year, police registered 431 complaints and conducted 259 searches for Internet-based child pornography; police arrested 23 persons in 2002.

The law provides for the protection of children, and there are several government programs to enhance the protection available for minors. The law prohibits pedophilia, child pornography, the possession of pornographic material involving children, sex tourism involving minors, and trafficking in children (see Section 6.f.). The law provides for an information-gathering network to collect data on the condition of minors, and there is a legally mandated office in the Ministry of Labor and Welfare that protects the rights of unaccompanied immigrant minors. There was a special police unit to monitor and prosecute Internet sites devoted to promoting pedophilia.

Persons with Disabilities

The law requires companies having 15 or more employees to hire 1 or more workers with disabilities: Those with 15 to 35 employees must hire 1 disabled worker, those with 35 to 50 must hire 2, and, in larger companies, 7 percent of the work force must consist of persons with disabilities. Companies hiring persons with disabilities are granted certain benefits, including lower social security contributions, while the Government pays the cost of worker training. The law provides for severe sanctions against violators. There was no discrimination against persons with disabilities in employment, education, or in the provision of other state services, although there was some societal discrimination.

Although the law mandates access to buildings for persons with disabilities, mechanical barriers, particularly in public transport, left such persons at a disadvantage.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Increasing immigration led to some anti-immigrant sentiment. Since many immigrants are Muslim, religion was an additional factor differentiating them from native-born citizens. Some Catholic prelates contributed to popular reaction against Muslim immigrants by emphasizing the perceived threat posed to the country's "national identity" and what they viewed as the country's need to favor immigration by Catholics "or at least Christians."

In January, 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 (see Section 1.c.).

In December, unknown persons vandalized the office of a Milan NGO that specialized in researching Nazi persecution of Roma and contemporary discrimination against Roma communities. The case remained under investigation at year's end.

There were no accurate statistics on the number of Roma in the country. Romani community members and Roma-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.

Roma immigrants, or the children of Roma 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.

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, and workers exercised this right. The unions claimed to represent between 35 and 40 percent of the work force. Trade unions were free of government controls and have no formal ties with political parties. All trade unions are professional trade union organizations that defend trade union interests. Individual trade unionists are free to identify with and support political parties of their choosing.

The law prohibits discrimination by employers against union members and organizers. Dismissals of workers must be justified in writing. If a judge deems the grounds spurious, he can order the employer to reinstate or compensate the worker; in firms with more than 15 employees, workers have the option to choose between reinstatement and compensation, whereas in firms with fewer than 15 workers, the employer makes the choice. In June, low voter turnout invalidated a national referendum to eliminate this threshold and permit all workers to choose between reinstatement and compensation. The largest trade union confederation, CGIL, had supported the referendum, but other major confederations did not. The referendum followed a 2002 government accord with the Confederazione Italiana Sindacati dei Lavoratori (CISL), the Unione Italiana del Lavoro (UIL), the Unione Generale del Lavoro (UGL), and other unions (but not the CGIL) to exempt small firms from the provision's coverage to encourage them to hire additional workers.

Unions associated freely with national and international trade union organizations. CGIL, CISL, and UIL were affiliated with the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU); the UGL was associated with the World Confederation of Labor (WCL).

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. By custom, although not by law, national collective bargaining agreements apply to all workers, regardless of union affiliation.

The Constitution provides for the right to strike, and this right was exercised frequently. The law restricts strikes affecting essential public services (e.g., transport, sanitation, and health), requiring longer advance notification and precluding multiple strikes within days of each other. The law also defines minimum service to be maintained during a strike as 50 percent of normal service, with staffing by at least one-third of the normal work force. The law established compulsory cooling off periods and more severe sanctions for violations and covered transport worker unions, lawyers, and self-employed taxi drivers. The law was effective in preventing complete work stoppages in essential public service sectors on the frequent occasions during the year on which such strikes occurred. However, there were numerous strikes in many sectors during the year.

There are no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Bonded Labor

The law prohibits forced or bonded labor, including by children; however, there were reports that such practices occurred (see Sections 6.d. and 6.f.). Police periodically discovered clandestine Chinese immigrants working in plants throughout the country, particularly in Tuscany's large Chinese immigrant community.

d. Status of Child Labor Practices 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. In 2002, 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, and the influx from China continued to rise (see Section 6.f.). 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. Carabinieri officers who worked on child labor used a videocassette program to educate schoolchildren on child labor laws, their rights as specially protected workers, and workplace hazards.

The Government, employers' associations, and unions continued their tripartite cooperation on child labor. Their periodic consultations covered such matters as better enforcement of school attendance regulations; faster assistance for families in financial difficulty; and canceling economic or administrative incentives for companies found to make use of child labor, whether domestically or abroad. The Prime Minister's office provided a toll-free telephone number to report incidents of child labor. The footwear and textile industries and the goldsmith associations have codes of conduct that prohibit the use of child labor in their national and international activities; codes are applicable to subcontractors as well.

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, which specify minimum standards to which individual employment contracts must conform. 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. These wages provided a decent standard of living for a worker and family.

The legal workweek is 40 hours; most collective agreements provide for a 36- to 38-hour workweek. The average contractual workweek was 39 hours. Overtime work may not exceed 2 hours per day or an average of 12 hours per week. Unless otherwise 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 are few in number in view of the scope of their responsibilities. Accident rates were higher in the underground economy, which employed over 15 percent of the work force. Courts imposed fines and sometimes prison terms for violation of health and safety laws. Workers have the right to remove themselves from dangerous work situations without jeopardizing their continued employment.

f. Trafficking in Persons

A July law prohibits trafficking in persons; trafficking previously had been prosecuted through other articles of the Penal Code. Trafficking in persons for prostitution and forced labor was a problem, which the Government took steps to address. Government officials did not participate in, facilitate, or condone trafficking.

The new law increases sentences to 8 to 20 years imprisonment for trafficking in persons (old definition of 'trade in slaves' carried a 5- to 20- year penalty) and for enslavement (previously 5- to 15- year penalty). For convictions in which the victims were minors, destined for prostitution, or slated for organ harvesting, sentences were increased by one-third to one-half, i.e., the minimum sentencing range in these cases is approximately 10.5 to 26.5 years; the new maximum range is 12 to 30 years. The law mandates strong penalties to combat alien smuggling and human trafficking; smugglers face sentences of 4 to 12 years, and fines up to approximately $18,750 (15,000 euros) for each alien smuggled. Immigration legislation passed in 2002 created an agency to coordinate border police operations and combat alien smuggling.

In 2002, Parliament approved a permanent law applying special prison conditions to traffickers. The measures, previously limited to Mafia members, were designed to limit criminals' ability to continue their operations from jail. In 2001, the most recent year for which statistics were available, magistrates charged 235 people with over 123 crimes under the enslavement and exploitation statutes; 19 were convicted of enslavement. The Government also cooperated with foreign governments investigating and prosecuting trafficking cases.

Police and prosecutorial investigations, focusing on traffickers who smuggled young women from Albania, Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine, Moldova, and China and forced them into prostitution, resulted in the arrests of almost 200 citizens and foreign nationals. In March, carabinieri arrested a Ukrainian woman on charges of exploiting prostitution and alien smuggling after an investigation indicated she had organized a trafficking ring for women to engage in prostitution. In August, the Ministry of Interior announced the arrest of 138 immigrants involved in trafficking. By September, police had arrested 18 people on charges of exploitation and alien smuggling for trafficking at least 67 children from Albania to Italy for sale to childless couples.

The Ministry of Equal Opportunity leads an intergovernmental committee charged with monitoring trafficking and coordinating government activity to combat it. Other members include the Ministries of Social Affairs, Justice, Interior, and Foreign Affairs, as well as a special anti-Mafia prosecutorial unit. Major lay and Catholic NGOs concerned with trafficking, among which Parsec and Caritas were the most active, cooperated with this body. There were no statistics from either the Government or from NGOs to show the extent of the trafficking problem.

The country was a destination and a transit point for trafficked persons. According to the social research institute, Parsec, exact statistics on women and children involved in prostitution have not been updated since 1998. Estimates were in the range of 2,000 persons a year.

Trafficking in persons for the purpose of sexual exploitation involved immigrants, mostly from Nigeria, Albania, Eastern Europe (Moldova, Ukraine, Russia, Romania, Bulgaria), China, and South America (Ecuador, Peru, Colombia). Press reports estimated that over 80 percent of prostitutes in the country were immigrants, primarily from Eastern Europe and North Africa. Victims of trafficking were lured to the country with promises of a job, or sold by relatives or acquaintances, then forced into prostitution, sweatshop labor, or begging. Traffickers enforced compliance by taking their documents, beating and raping them, threatening their families, or frightening them with voodoo rites. Some trafficked women were killed when they showed opposition or went to the authorities.

There were between 1,880 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. 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" (see Section 6.d.). The domestic NGO Social Service International assisted in repatriating unaccompanied immigrant minors.

Criminal organizations and prostitution rings routinely moved trafficked persons and prostitutes from city to city, making it harder for police to identify and track trafficked persons. Organized criminal groups were behind most trafficking in the country. Three north-south axes (focused along the Adriatic and Tyrrhenian coasts) and three east-west axes were identified as routes that gangs used. In February, German and Italian police arrested 22 Nigerians involved in trafficking women for prostitution in Florence. The women had been shuttled between the two countries to avoid investigations and detection.

A number of government employees remained under investigation in connection with the sale of visas. There was no evidence of official, institutional, or government involvement in trafficking.

Victims of trafficking who were in the sex trade faced the attendant health risks resulting from unsafe or unprotected sex. They usually were out on the streets day and night in all sorts of inclement weather. They generally did not go to health centers or doctors. Trafficking victims in the Tuscany region working in sweatshops possibly were exposed to dangerous chemicals in the leather industry. Due to the long hours they worked in close proximity to possibly dangerous machinery, there were health risks to life and limb.

The law provides temporary residence/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 is lodged, victims usually did not face prosecution for any laws they had broken. There was still some deportation of victims, particularly involving Nigerian prostitutes. Repatriated victims faced problems in their home countries, particularly in Nigeria and Albania. As more deportations occurred during the year, NGOs raised concerns about the recognition of victims' rights when the victims had broken immigration laws. The NGOs alleged that not enough time was allowed: Between apprehending illegal immigrants and deporting them; discovering if the people who had broken immigration laws also had been trafficked; obtaining information on their traffickers; and informing them of their rights as victims before they were deported.

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. New trafficking legislation created a separate budgetary category for victim assistance programs. The legislation also 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. New trafficking legislation directed the Foreign Ministry, together with the Equal Opportunity Ministry, to conclude additional anti-trafficking agreements with trafficking source countries.