Murders spark national alarm

8th September 2000 at 01:00

David Newbold reports on a paedophile scare which has the country in uproar.

THE government is taking emergency action to quell widespread public alarm about paedophilies following the brutal murders of two young girls, in separate incidents within hours of each other.

The measures include setting up support centres in schools. These will be staffed by psychologists and social workers who will listen to children in danger of abuse and offer support. Training teachers and families in how to talk about paedophilia will also be a focus.

The day after a four-year-old girl in Imperia, near Monaco,was abused and killed by a Romanian who escaped into France, a group of teenagers in Andria, in the heel of Italy, abducted and tortured an eight-year-old girl, then burnt her to death.

Investigating magistrates view the second murder as a macabre teenage ritual gone horribly wrong rather than paedophilia. However, media coverage of the two murders, and the sense of shock engendered by them, have sparked a public backlash against suspected paedophiles, and a "name-and-shame" campaign by one national paper.

With many Italians still on

holiday, "anti-paedophile" incidents have been common on the beaches. One man who was taking innocent faily photographs of his son at the seaside was nearly lynched by an mob mistaking him for a child molester.

At the resort of Marina di Massa, a 47-year-old shopkeeper who had reportedly exposed himself to a teenage girl was in a critical condition in hospital after being beaten up by sunbathers.

In a swift reaction to public horror over the child protection crisis, the government has drawn up plans to create a difensore civico dell'infanzia, to receive public complaints about the actions or whereabouts of suspected paedophiles.

But a proposal by the minister of home affairs to send police into schools to warn children of the dangers of paedophilia, was blocked by Professor Tullio De Mauro, the education minister.

Meanwhile, the people of Modena, in the central Emilia region, have come up with a practical idea to help keep children safe on their way to and from school. They have set up a "protected route" to school with special coloured signs on shops and homes denoting them as safe havens for children.

In 1998 the government encouraged senior citizens to join task forces to protect children from paedophiles. The "civic grandads" scheme fell into disrepute after a recruit was arrested for the attempted rape of a 12-year-old girl.

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