An Overview of the Italian Response to Child Trafficking

Written by: Noemi Fantoni [1]**

All forms of trafficking in human beings including sexual exploitation of children are universally prohibited.  In order to comply with its international obligations, Italy introduced a number of changes in its criminal legislation, so that it continued to protect the principle of the “best interest of the child.” The offence of sexual exploitation of children was introduced into the Italian Criminal Code only in 1996, by art.609-bis of the Law No. 66 which punishes violent behavior against children. Subsequent legislation was passed again in 1998 which prohibited sex tourism and juvenile prostitution.[2] It was, however, only in 2003 that Law No. 228/2003 on Measures against Trafficking Persons (also called Anti-Trafficking Law) was amended as to include a specific provision of the offence of sexual exploitation of children. This was in order to ensure compliance of the Italian legislation with the treaties and other regional and international obligations that Italy submitted to.   

So what does the Italian legislation aim to accomplish with regards to trafficking of minors? Article 18 of the Immigration Consolidation Act requires creation of a Social Assistance and Integration Programme, which took more than 2 years to bring into existence.  Currently the Programme also serves to penalize the crime of trafficking by using the trafficking definitions found in the Palermo Protocol. All the measures which form the Programme are managed by the Inter-ministerial Committee. The Programme provides several tools, such as:[3] a free Help-line (a national hotline against trafficking) and the “Voluntary Repatriation Programme” which is run by the Italian branch of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) in collaboration with the Ministry of Interior which provides programs for temporary assistance and long term social protection.[4]

The main objectives of the free Help-line are to provide detailed information on legislation and services granted to trafficked persons in Italy and, upon request, refer them to the specialised anti- trafficking (THB) agencies. In most cases, the territorial branches of the free Help-line are managed by the same NGOs and public institutions responsible for the implementation of projects funded within the Article 18 Programme. Information is provided in the various languages spoken by the target groups and it is free and active 24 hours since January 2007. The hotline provides assistance and information not only to victim of THB for sexual exploitation but also to victims of trafficking for the purpose of labour exploitation.[5]

All local branches provide information in various languages on several issues (immigration law, social and health services, programme of social assistance and integration, etc.); provide psychological support; provide legal advice; assess if the conditions for the application of the Article 18 procedures are in place; provide information about the available accommodation solutions; and place or refer victims to the accredited Article 18 agency located in the geographical area where the victim resides.

Another instrument which has aided Italy in combatting child trafficking is the Osservatorio Nazionale Tratta,[6] an Italian online portal which offers information on various aspects of the THB phenomenon. The portal was established by Department of Equal Opportunity within the European Equal-Project Observation and Resource Centre for THB, coordinated by the Association on the Road in partnership with other NGOs and governmental bodies. The portal is the most updated secondary source on THB issues within Italy (SIRIT – Sistema Informatizzato di Raccolta Informazioni sulla Tratta), where it is possible to complete individual courses for victims accepted under social protection under Article 18 or Article 13 of the Anti-Trafficking Law but its access is restricted. It gathers national statistical data from different institutions and offers an overview of the national and international legal framework against trafficking for monitoring and analyzing this phenomenon.[7]  This is connected with the Anti-Mafia National Direction (Direzione Nazionale Anti-Mafia – DNA) and its local Districts (Direzioni Distrettuali Antimafia  – DDA) which specifically concerns itself with of all crimes in Articles 600 and 601 of the Criminal Code (slavery, servitude, trafficking).[8]

In the last decade, several awareness-raising campaigns have been run in collaboration with the General Directorate of the Italian Cooperation for Progress of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, together with the Department of Rights and Equal Opportunities[9] and with some of the most relevant Italian NGOs. The direct participation of children in awareness-raising efforts is considered particularly relevant by the government, civil society, and NGOs fighting child trafficking.[10] Moreover, the Department for Rights and Equal Opportunities collects some key information on victims of trafficking through project reports that organisations and local authorities send to the Department every six months and on an annual basis.

In fact, the Department for Equal Opportunities every year calls upon the public for project proposals to provide and guarantee proper assistance and protection to trafficked persons. From 2000 to 2010, Department for Equal Opportunities helped to fund a total of 710 projects, in all the Italian regions (out of them 613 long term projects were financed under Article 18 and 97 short term projects under the Anti-Trafficking Law).[11]

In 2010 the Department for Equal Opportunities started to work for the implementation and set up of a National Action Plan, although it became into force only a year after.  The Plan analyzed the specific needs of trafficked/exploited children; it has a gender based approach, has cross-cutting issues to the national strategy to be developed and including minimum standards for protection and standard operating procedure for the referral of victims to the proper service providers. Nevertheless until now the Italian government has not yet appointed a National Rapporteur or equivalent mechanism. The technical board, called the Observatory and National Resource Centre on Trafficking in Human Beings, has the purpose of designing new tools and knowledge and monitoring systems on the different forms of exploitation linked to trafficking, proposing at the same time, liaison tools for different kinds of organisations working at different levels for the protection of trafficked persons and working in combating the phenomenon, for the purpose of influencing  positive policies and interventions in the sector.

Incorporating both short term and long term strategies, the Anti-Trafficking Law provides victims with three to six months of assistance while Article 18 guarantees victims shelter benefits for one year, subject to judicial review. As a matter of fact the law does not specify how often a permit can be renewed, and so it can technically be renewed until the child has reached the age of 18. Article 18[12] grants a special residence permit to foreigners, whatever their age, who are presumed to have been victims of violence or severe exploitation, whose life is at risk as a result of their desire either to escape from the control of criminal organisations or to cooperate with police and prosecutors. A residence permit may be granted without the victim reporting the traffickers, because exploitation and the associated danger for the victim are a sufficient condition for it to be obtained. Foreign child victims of trafficking receive an automatic residence permit until they reach 18 years old. The Italian legal system does not allow the deportation of foreign children below the age of 18, unless the minor constitutes a danger for public or a danger to state security.[13] A similar provision has been recently enacted for unaccompanied minors who are EU citizens.

In the end these victims receive a residence permit for education or for work, allowing them to remain in Italy.[14] The persons (including children) who are part of this Programme benefit from social services, educational provisions, and labour information in order to find a permanent job, while the Anti-Trafficking Law establishes a special aid programme granting on a temporary basis suitable accommodation and food and healthcare.

While the legislation in Italy is multidimensional (it also includes provisions for prosecutions, etc), focusing on the needs of victims and creating preventative efforts, allows for the Italian local communities to engage in combatting this crime, in addition to protecting vulnerable youth, who at times, against their own will, are far away from home.  The world has a responsibility to help those who cannot help themselves and because of their vulnerabilities are targeted so that criminals can make a profit.


[1] Noemi Fantoni is a graduate of the University of Torino (LLM) in 2012 and is currently a trainee with the European Union Parliament in Civil Liberties and Justice Unit. Noemi has worked with various NGO’s relating to child rights, most recently in Mongolia with Amici dei Bambini. She can be reached at noemi.fantoni@gmail.com for more information regarding Italian Child Trafficking laws.

** Unless otherwise noted, the author has translated the laws from Italian into English for the purposes of this post.

[2] Law No. 269, on 3rd August 1998, Norme conto lo sfruttamento della prostituzione, della pornografia, del turismo sessuale in danno di minori, quali nuove forme di riduzione di schiavitù. (http://www.normattiva.it/atto/caricaDettaglioAtto?atto.dataPubblicazioneGazzetta=1998-08-10&atto.codiceRedazionale=098G0337).

[3] Associazione On the Road, Isabella Orfano and Marco Bufo, The Italian system of assistance and integration of victims of trafficking in human beings, page. 9. (available in http://ec.europa.eu/anti-trafficking/download.action;jsessionid=GRPqPPcYfFkbL7CT7yWgyTVWNvG9gzjhwBBZkH81Rn22j7tLyXZ6!-1401219818?nodeId=e06d5560-83ce-4df1-ae98-832b58224819&fileName=The+Italian+system+of+assistance+and+integration+of+victims+of+).

[4] Idem., page.6.

[6] Web site of Osservatorio Nazionale Tratta –ONT- (www.osservatoriotratta.it).

[7]International Centre for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD), Study on the assessment of the extent of different types of Trafficking in Human Beings in EU countries, April 2010, page.184.

[8] Giuseppina Valentina D’Angelo and Isabella Orfano, European Commission, Italian Report, Law enforcement agencies and NGOs co-operation in the prevention and victim assistance of trafficking in human  beings for the purpose of sexual exploitation (THBSE), Agis Programme 2005,  COOP-TRAF JLS/2005/AGIS/156, page. 19. (available: c.europa.eu/anti-trafficking/download.action;jsessionid=5RLNPvCFWpkSvnKPpy7x9vWPFnhN51WwLLQB9r1JDGqhGpjRLh1F!511069867?nodeId=3c5774ae-4f5a-4bc8-b1c3-7abe2b7e7d32&file).

[9] Prime Minister’s Office, which is the central public authority in charge of promoting and coordinating policies and actions on anti-trafficking, with specific regard to a human rights based and victim centered approach. 

[11]European Commission, Fight Against Trafficking Human Beings, Italy. (available in: c.europa.eu/anti-trafficking/showNIPsection.action;jsessionid=2z1KPlFG8gJLTvHYG66lJ3nXh5T7w8TjmQDpPCSCn9hLLprgYVJ1!511069867?sectionId=688).

[12] The implementation of the programme, pursuit by article 18 of the Law No. 286/1998 (the Immigration Consolidation Act),  are co-financed by the State (70%) and local authorities (30%), coordinated by a special Inter-Ministerial Committee and provided by local authorities  and/or accredited non-profit organizations. The Programme is managed by the Inter-ministerial Committee for the Implementation of Art. 18 of the Law No. 286/1998 (the Immigration Consolidation Act ), the managing body of the Programme, that is composed of representatives of the Department for Rights and Equal Opportunities, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Welfare and the Ministry of Interior. Idem., page. 34.

[13] Article 19, par. 2, of Italy/Decreto legislativo n. 286/1998 (25.7.1998) available at http://www.giustizia.it/cassazione/leggi/dlgs286_98.html (02.07.2008).

[14] Associazione On the Road, Isabella Orfano and Marco Bufo, The Italian system of assistance and integration of victims of trafficking in human beings. Page. 4. (available in http://ec.europa.eu/anti-trafficking/download.action;jsessionid=GRPqPPcYfFkbL7CT7yWgyTVWNvG9gzjhwBBZkH81Rn22j7tLyXZ6!-1401219818?nodeId=e06d5560-83ce-4df1-ae98-832b58224819&fileName=The+Italian+system+of+assistance+and+integration+of+victims+of+).

Advertisements