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Murder sparks abuse clampdown

ITALY. Ministers draw up anti-paedophile measures as further cases of child abuse provoke public outrage. David Newbold reports.

Peace-loving young men who refuse to do military service may find themselves enlisted in the battle against child abuse.

The employment of conscientious objectors to patrol primary schools is just one of the emergency measures being considered by the government in the wake of several sex abuse cases. Other suggestions are sex education for eight-year-olds and greater control over violence on TV.

Earlier this year nine-year-old Silvestro Delle Cave was abducted from outside his school in Cicciano, near Naples, and abused for months by three paedophiles who subsequently murdered him.

This atrocity came five months after police smashed a paedophile ring near Naples after a year-long investigation - 17 people were accused of abusing at least 19 children who all attended the same school. Some of the abuse took place on school premises.

Each new day seems to bring news of another paedophilia case. Schools have been frequently in the front line. In Melfi, near Potenza in the South, a primary teacher who suspected two of his pupils were victims of abuse, talked to the class about the Silvestro Delle Cave case and then got children to write an essay.

His suspicions were confirmed by what the two boys wrote, and two men were subsequently arrested. In another incident, a high-school teacher was arrested in the southern town of Avellino accused of abusing at least eight pupils, all of them under 16.

Media coverage has fuelled public outrage; in the wake of the murder of Silvestro Delle Cave 89 per cent of Italians said they wanted the death penalty restored.

The government has not been slow to react. An emergency meeting of the council of ministers has come up with a package of possible measures to form the basis of an anti-paedophilia Bill. This includes sex education for eight-year-olds - the age when many children start to make the journey to school by themselves - and extra surveillance at schools.

But, as Livia Turco, the minister for social solidarity, said "there are no magic recipes". Any proposal to introduce sex education at primary level is likely to run into opposition from Catholic lobbies.

Meanwhile, the directors of the two main TV networks, RAI and Mediaset, have agreed not to show before 10.30pm scenes of violence "which could disturb children or lead to imitative behaviour".

This may prove difficult to implement, but improving school surveillance should be rather more straightforward. As Vito Gia-calone, president of the Association of Primary Headteachers, says: "If schools always asked parents to justify children's absences, some cases of abuse would come to light earlier, and maybe this latest tragedy could have been avoided."

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