Italy’s better-off citizens are by now accustomed, like the rest of Europe’s chattering classes, to the concept of “adopting” a child in poverty stricken Africa.
But after the most brutal recession in living memory, charity is now starting closer to home for some Italians, with hundreds choosing to offer vital financial assistance to local children, rather than youngsters in the Third World.
Despite being based in one of the world’s richest countries, the Milan charity Auitare i bambini (Help the Children), has revealed how 400 local infants have been “adopted” in the past six months by concerned citizens who want to ensure that impoverished compatriots have enough to eat and have a place in nursery.
The group’s spokesman Alex Gusella said: “Since the charity was founded in 2000 we’ve been helping people ‘adopt’ infants from afar in countries in Africa and Asia. Then last year we said: ‘Why not allow people to offer the same help to babies in this country?’ Unfortunately Italy is one of the European countries in which levels of child poverty are highest.”
Auitare i bambini has established links with seven nurseries around Italy, from Piemonte in the north to Sicily in the far south. Patrons are able to sponsor a baby aged from six months to three years old in any of the seven establishments, thereby ensuring the nursery fees are paid and they are fed properly. “The main point is this allows the mothers to go out and work,” Mr Gusella told The Independent.
The development shows how Italy, Europe’s centre of fashion, fine dining and football, suffers from pernicious wealth inequality. And it underlines the gravity of the economic problems facing the country as the new Prime Minister Matteo Renzi promises radical measures to kickstart its moribund economy, which has seen youth employment soar to 40 per cent. The level of women working in Italy is only about 50.5 per cent, among the worst in Europe.
Earlier this month, figures from the government revealed how one Italian household in four is facing serious financial hardship. According to the report titled “Noi Italia” by the national statistical agency Istat, 24.9 per cent of households in 2012 were in a situation of “deprivation”, meeting at least three of the agency’s nine poverty criteria.
These include the inability to meet unexpected expenses, falling behind in loan payments or being unable to afford a meal with a high-protein content at least once every two days.
Sonia Pedretti, the head of the nursery assisted by Auitare i bambini in Marcheno, near Brescia, said she was delighted by the arrival of “adoption close to home” scheme. “In this area, the economic situation has deteriorated with crisis in the steel industry,” she told Gente magazine.
“Very often the families aren’t able to pay the nursery fees. Last year we had only six babies. Now with the adoption scheme we have 14.”
Experts have been warning for the past few years of a child poverty crisis in Italy. Giacomo Guerrera, the president of the Italian branch of Unicef, said last summer that the extent of the problem in his country was “extremely alarming”. “Some countries are doing much better than others to protect the most vulnerable. Since the situation in Italy is not improving, action is needed,” he said.