The Invisibility Of Child Labour In Italy

According to Unicef, there are more than 150 million children in the world employed in jobs that endanger not only their physical health but also their mental health. This phenomenon is called child labour and is often concentrated in the poorest areas of the planet as a direct consequence of precariousness. But this issue spares no one anymore. In Italy it is estimated that 336,000 minors between the ages of 7 and 15 have had work experience, almost 1 in 15.

“Non è un gioco” (“It’s not a game”), a survey on child labour in Italy, is a research carried out by Save the Children, an International Organisation which fights to guarantee better living conditions for children, to show how minors are exploited, without any legal protection, interrupting their learning path and feeding the vicious circle of poverty in the country. “The research highlights how many young people in Italy today enter the world of work through the wrong door: too early, without a contract, no form of protection, nor any knowledge of their rights, and this negatively affects their growth and education. Early child labour is in fact the other side of the coin of early school leaving. In a time of economic crisis and a sharp rise in child poverty, the risk is that, in the absence of intervention, the picture could get even worse,” said Raffaela Milano, director of Save the Children’s Italy-EU Programme.

In Italy, the law stipulates that young people can start working at the age of 16, having therefore completed compulsory schooling. However, research shows that one in five 14/15 year olds is working or has worked before the permitted age. One of the main problems lies in Italy’s inability to produce a systematic statistical survey on child labour.  “This is why we call for coordinated institutional action that first of all systematically surveys the extent of the phenomenon in the different territories and implements measures to prevent it. At the same time, direct intervention is needed starting from the most deprived territories to strengthen monitoring networks, support for educational and training pathways, and the fight against economic and educational poverty, with a synergic action of the institutions and all the social and economic actors”. The director added.

The main sectors affected by child labour are catering, retail in shops, followed by activities in the countryside and on construction sites. Among the 14-15 year olds who work, 27.8 per cent (about 58,000 minors) performed work that was particularly harmful to their educational development and psychophysical well-being, either because it was considered dangerous by them or because it was performed at night, or carried out continuously during school time. Among the reasons that lead young people to look for a job before the permitted age, having money for themselves is the first motivation, which concerns 56.3% of the analysed group. Then there are the 32.6% who need or want to offer material help to their parents, and finally the 38.5% who work for the pleasure of it. For, mostly an aspect not to be neglected in the analysis is that of work and juvenile justice. Of the minors taken into care by the Juvenile Justice Services, 40 per cent said they had worked before the age of 16, and more than 60 per cent had carried out work activities with harmful repercussions on their physical and mental development and well-being. Claudio Tesauro, president of Save the Children, said that ‘for many boys and girls in Italy, entering the world of work too early, before the age allowed, negatively affects their growth and educational continuity, fuelling the phenomenon of early school leaving. These are boys and girls who risk being trapped in the vicious circle of educational poverty, effectively blocking their aspirations for the future, also in terms of training and professional development, with serious repercussions also in adulthood’.

The economic crisis, poverty and increasing precariousness in Italy are the main causes leading to this phenomenon. The issue of young people is never taken into account in political debates in Italy. Increasingly marginalised, they should represent the future of the country, but instead no policy of Giorgia Meloni’s current government has tried to improve their situation (even often disadvantaging this group). This is shocking when one considers that there are 1.382 million minors living in poverty, or 14.2% of the total. This would lead many more young people to look for work and consequently find themselves accepting even more intense forms of exploitation. Italy and the Italian government cannot afford to avoid dealing with this crucial issue, also because continuing to avoid it will have devastating repercussions for the country’s future.