Child Labour in Evidence in Naples, Italy

04/04/2012 – More than 50,000 children in Italy's Campania region have left school to find work, some of them as young as ten or twelve years old.

Here in Canada, when we think of Italy, poverty and child labour are not usually the first things that come to mind—not with such beautiful and historic sites such the Coliseum, ruins of Pompeii, Venice and the Vatican City.

But in Naples, one of Europe’s poorest urban areas, there are thousands of children leaving school in order to help their families stay afloat, Le Monde newspaper reports. 

Some of the children work in illegal fields and in the black market; others work in shops, restaurants, hairdressing salons, leather industry and markets, among other sectors.

A local government report on the Campania region showed that in the four years between 2005 and 2009, an estimated 54,000 left school. Thirty-eight per cent of those children were younger than 13 years old.

Article 32 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Italy is a state party, prohibits the children’s employment if it interferes with the education, health, or development.

Neapolitan parents like Paola Rescigno—whose 14 year old son works in a grocery store ten hours per day, six days a week—never dreamed they would be forced to see their children robbed of their education, but poverty has forced their hands. Ms. Rescigno earns 0.45 euro per hour (35 euro per week). Some families are struggling to find a way out of the socio-economic vulnerabilities brought on by the financial crisis and budget cuts.

It is not unheard of to see children as young as ten years old working exhausting 12-hour shifts, despite the risks to their education, wellbeing and futures this poses.

The average per capita income in the Campania region is said to be 633 euro per year—equivalent to about US$831. It is a stark realization that this puts the region’s residents on roughly the same low average income level as countries such as Kenya (US$882, nominal gross domestic product per capita), Tajikistan (US$862), Comoros ($853) and Burma ($804), despite the face that Italy ranks 23rd at US$37,046.

According to an online article by Montreal-based Centre for Research on Globalization, new Eurostat figures put unemployment in the European Union above 17 million, the highest level in 15 years. In Italy, with unemployment at 9.3 per cent (Bloomberg), joblessness is at a ten-year peak. Campania’s population is about 5.8 million people, the second-most populous region in Italy—and the poorest, said one resident to France’s Le Monde.