Project to save children from the mafia extended to Sicily and Naples | Mafia

A project to save children from Italy’s biggest mafia by removing them from mob families is being extended to organised crime groups in Sicily and Naples, the justice ministry has announced.

The scheme aims to prevent at-risk children from following their parents into a life of crime, breaking the cycle by which power is passed down the generations through blood ties and family loyalty.

“This is a historic moment in the fight against the mafia,” the justice minister, Carlo Nordio, said on Tuesday as he presented a protocol signed by five ministers and the Catholic church’s Italian bishops’ conference.

The Free to Choose scheme was founded in 2012 by juvenile judge Roberto Di Bella in the Calabria region, home to Italy’s most powerful criminal organisation, the ’Ndrangheta.

It will now be extended to the country’s two other main organised crime strongholds: Sicily, home to the Cosa Nostra, and the Campania region – of which Naples is the capital – home to the Camorra.

Chiara Colosimo, head of the Italian parliament’s anti-mafia commission, said: “There are children being taught to shoot at eight years old. There are children dealing crack at eight years old.”

Di Bella said he had seen cases of children forced to murder their mothers to defend the family’s honour but he has also dealt with children “who still have light in their eyes, who hope for a different life”.

Since the scheme began, about 150 children have been placed with foster families or in communities in secret locations across the country, where they learn about life beyond the clans.

Di Bella said 30 mothers had chosen to follow their children, with seven of them turning state witness.

“Important mafia bosses have also become state collaborators to protect their children, including one who said he was doing it for his grandchildren,” he told AFP.

Now a judge in Catania, Di Bella gets letters from jailed mobsters thanking him for helping save their children.

One letter, seen by AFP, was written by a mafia boss who had decided to turn state witness.

“I remembered when I was a boy, then in my mind’s eye I saw my son … [and knew] I have done the right thing,” the boss said.

“A parent is ready to give his life for his son. For my children, and my wife, I proposed to change mine.”

The families minister, Eugenia Roccella, said women had a crucial part to play.

Modern popular culture and the media often portrayed mobster wives as wielding power behind the scenes, issuing orders while their husbands were behind bars. “But that is fiction. It is impossible for there to be forms of emancipation of women in this culture, which instead violates and destroys them,” she said.

“The role of women is to break the chain of cultural transmission … through disobedience,” specifically by removing herself and her children from the mafia, Roccella said.

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