Social Problems

With Italy's free, intensive education system, essentially free child healthcare, and paid family leave that enables a parent to stay at home during a child's first year of life, Italian children appear to be relatively privileged in comparison to children from other countries.  However, children in every part of the world experience some social problems and children in Italy are certainly no exception.  Yet, although life is not perfect in Italy, and a number of children experience their share of problems, including poverty, unpleasant divorces, and child abuse, it should be noted that the public is working to improve these situations, and progress has been made in recent years. 


Households with children face significant social risks in Italy. The poverty risk in Italy is 27.1%; however, families with children and additional adults experience a higher rate of 32%.  In 1993, 959,000 Italian children were classified as poor.  The most vulnerable of all children are those residing with single mothers in the southern region, where unemployment is particularly high and the risk of poverty is approximately 64-66%. 

A major obstacle in combating child poverty within Italy is its inadequate social welfare system.  In 2000, 3.4% of national expenditures were used toward social protection for children and families, which includes funding maternity leave and providing tax allowances for dependent children, while 69.6% of public funds went towards pensions. In contrast, the European Union as a whole used an average of 8.3% of national funds for the social protection of families.  A main problem in resolving Italy’s unsatisfactory welfare system is the fact that analytical data of expense flows is not available, and thus, it is not possible to accurately distinguish the resources specifically designated toward children’s social services.  However, perhaps, an even greater problem is the fact that legislation regarding welfare dates back to the previous century and is still awaiting reform.  Since the 1970s, welfare has been supervised by local authorities, townships and provinces simultaneously.  As a result, uncertainty exists as to whose responsibility it is to promote children’s rights and taken action.


Another social problem that affects Italian children involves peculiarities existing in family legislation.  Although divorce is rare in Italy, when it does occur, it is not guaranteed that both parents will share custody of their children.  In fact, mothers are usually awarded sole-custody on the basis that the mother is a key figure in childcare, and fathers are expected to remain informed about their children’s upbringing and education.  However, Italians have moved to safeguard children’s best interests in recent years, and people are finally beginning to acknowledge the necessity for children to remain in contact with both parents after a separation. One attempt to ensure this, the Divorce Law of 1987, grants judges the right to award joint custody without parental approval if he or she feels that it is in the child’s best interest.



Child abuse, a problem prevalent in just about every nation in the world continues to exist in Italy; however, efforts have been made to combat it .  Due to the fact that official statistics only calculated the number of perpetrators rather than victims, a national commission was established in 1997, which aimed to prevent inadequacies in reporting abuse, and thus control this visible problem.  In an attempt to help previously abused children rebuild relationships with their families, a program called Neutral Space was set up by Milan Council in 1993 with the intent to create a safe place where children and parents can reunite with the aid of social workers.



D’Ambrosio, Conchita, and Carlos Gradin.  2003.  “Income Distribution and Social Exclusion of Children: Evidence from Italy and Spain in the 1990s.”  Journal of Comparative Family Studies 34: 479-495.

Ronfani, Paola.  2001.  “Children, Law and Social Policy in Italy.”  International Journal of Law, Policy and the Family 15: 276-289.