Naples child abuse forces crackdown

18th July 1997 at 01:00
Tougher laws against paedophilia have been approved by parliament less than two weeks after the country was shocked by revelations of one of its worst- ever cases of child abuse.

Under the new legislation, sexual exploitation of children will be punishable by up to 20 years' imprisonment (longer if particularly violent), while possession of child pornography becomes an offence carrying a sentence of up to three years.

The Bill acquired a sense of urgency following the arrest in Torre Annunziata, in the depressed hinterland of Naples, of 12 men and five women involved in a paedophile ring centred on a primary school. For more than two years, with the collusion of a school caretaker, paedophiles had enjoyed more or less free access to the school.

At least 12 children aged between six and nine had been systematically abused in school toilets, in a basement and in garages nearby. After school, the children were taken to flats and made to participate in the filming of sex videos, for which they were "rewarded" with sweets and money for video games. They could get more money if they were filmed in chains.

When the mothers of three of the children reported their suspicions to the police, two child psychologists were called in to interview the alleged victims. But, the psychologists say, their request to infiltrate the school staff was turned down.

Police believe that some teachers must have known what was going on, but had been silenced by threats. Since the scandal broke, and as investigations continue, the families of children whose revelations led to the arrests have also been threatened.

Three families have been moved to a secret location after a bomb exploded outside the house of one key witness - an intimidatory gesture which has led some people to believe that the Camorra, the Neapolitan version of the Mafia, is behind the squalid racket.

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