ITALY'S image as a country where, traditionally,
children a r e cherished, spoiled, over-indulged and, above all, sheltered from harm, is unfortunately, becoming increasingly tarnished.
The whole country has been shocked by the death of a 13year-old schoolgirl, Maria Teresa Novaro who. after a bandit kidnapped her from her home, was kept chained to a bed for months in an airless cellar, where she died of asphixiation. Her body was discovered after the bandit was drowned in Asti, North Italy, when he jumped into a river in an attempt to elude police.
In itself, the sordid case revolted Italians. But to make it worse. several people who knew that the bandit,
Bartolemeo Calleri, was holding the girl and who, by telling the police, could have saved her life, preferred to keep silent. "Why should I have told them?" asked one of those in the know. "It wasn't my business. Besides, Calleri was always nice to me.
This is not an isolated case. It has been common knowledge for years that children have been cruelly treated, often in homes and institutions of all kinds, It has also become disturbingly clear that plenty of Italians, although fully aware of what was going on. had ignored it rather than become "involved."
Last June, allegations of cruelty to backward children in a private clinic in Grot taferrata, outside Rome, caused a public outcry. The place was run as a "religious" institute by a former nun. who received substantial voluntary contributions for her work. Police alleged children were manacled, chained all night to beds, immersed in cold baths and underfed.
The outcry mounted when it was revealed that 10 retarded children had died in the clinic and been buried without any inquiries having been made.
In another case, tubercular children were deprived of proper treatment because a doctor and a lawyer, paid by the State to run several TB institutions, were pocketing funds.
In Prato, an unbalanced Capuchin friar managed for 12 years to run an ophanage holding 104 boys before the Italian Health Ministry, finally appalled by the filthiness of the place and the ill-treatment of inmates, closed it down.
In Sicily, a woman who habitually dressed as a nun conducted for years an ophanage from which children, horribly undernourished, were forced daily to go out begging. In Palermo. the publication of horrifying pictures of a fiveyear-old mentally-retarded boy chained by the ankle to a piece of furniture for two years, spotlighted the plight of thousands of children throughout Italy.
Also in Palermo, a schoolteacher with a curious sense of justice sent a nineyear-old boy to a hospital psychiatric ward because the boy dared to tell him that he would rather go to work than to school. The boy had stolen a few bits and pieces of food to share with his unemployed father and his seven "very hungry" small brothers and sisters.
"Italy appears more each day as the inferno of babies and children", a columnist wrote recently in Milan's noted newspaper, Corriere della Sera. He touched on another aspect of the problem by pointing out that, under Italian law, the adoption of homeless children is extremely difficult, while Italy's neglect of abnormal children leaves an estimated 1,500,000 of them uncared for in any type of institution.
In 1967, the Italian Parliament passed new adoption laws to replace archaic ones, The idea was to ease the situation in badly overcrowded, often badly run, orphanages and bring new hope for the hordes of abandoned children. (In Italy, about 20,000 children are born illegitimately every year and 14,000 of them are abandoned.) Under the old laws, Italians had to be at least 50 years old before they could adopt a child and, even more incongruous, couples who already had children of their own, were barred from adopting others. The new laws reduced to 35 the age of persons permitted to adopt children and also cut through red tape that had previously created considerable legal, and other, risks for persons willing to become foster parents.
In 1968, the president of the Adopting and Affiliating Families' Association, Signor Francesco Santanera, said the new adoption laws were not working and thousands of abandoned children whom people wanted to adopt had to remain in orphanages.
Main cause of the trouble was lack of sufficient judges and magistrates to decide adoption requests. The problem was also aggravated by a shortage of specialists — doctors, social workers, psychiatrists and investigators — to report on applicants and the children they wished to make their own.
Politicians, social welfare officials and newspapers are demanding a full-scale governmental inquiry into every aspect of child welfare and hoping that brisk action will be taken before more scandals arise from past neglect of the problem.
Police seize magazines
THE Public Prosecutor in Venice has confiscated two popular "girlie" magazines, Long-Play and Tab Tuttonight on the ground that they are pornographic.
These are the latest to be seized in a series of raids on magazines with names such as Man. Detective Erotic Story, Bang, Gong, Sexy Photo and Bikini. They have been flooding the Italian market for years.
Two years ago, the Vatican Newspaper Osservatore Romano called on State authorities to act to stop "sly reports about decadence, perversion, sadism, drugs and clinical cases of sex morbidity." Catholic members of parliament also demanded action. Since then, there have been regular confiscations of magazines and arrests of those promoting them.
The Vatican has been especially concerned over the sale of pornography and the display of salacious films and posters in Rome. Under the terms of the Holy See-State Lateran Treaty, the State has a direct obligation to "preserve the sacred nature" of the Holy City.
Recently, following strong complaints against questtonable film advertising and, in particular, "trailers" boosting erotic films shown to audiences including children, the Italian Association of Film Producers placed all film publicity in Italy under a form of self-censorship by the producers.
Mini skirts banned
MINI skirts that are too absolutely mini are being banned from St. Peter's Basilica. Until now, while women with bare arms or low necklines have been turned away, mini skirts have been tolerated.
After all, an imprimatur was more or less placed on minis in St. Peter's a couple of years ago, when the Italian actress, Claudia Cardinale, sent a sound like a grand amen thundering through the crowded church by turning up in a mini to meet Pope Paul.
Now, the Papal gendarmes have been ordered to stop girls from entering the basilica in minis that are minis-plus. There is no order against minis as such, only immodest ones.
And who, pray, is to judge what is immodest?
The gallant young gendarmes, no less.
That should give the girls a sporting chance.
Pope invited to Japan
POPE PAUL has received his second invitation within 15 months to visit Hiroshima. Japan, next year, for the 25th anniversary of the dropping of the first atomic bomb upon the city.
The Pope did not commit himself. A Vatican official says he has absolutely no plans at present for going to Japan.
The latest invitation was presented, during an audience, by Professor Tsuruji Kotani, professor of political sciences at Hiroshima University, who was in Rome with a group of Japanese students. It renewed an invitation made in May, 1968, by the Mayor of Hiroshima, Mr. Setsuo Yamada.