Magazine article Forced Migration Review

Italy's 'Zampa' Law: Increasing Protection for Unaccompanied Children

Magazine article Forced Migration Review

Italy's 'Zampa' Law: Increasing Protection for Unaccompanied Children

Article excerpt

In March 2017, Italy became the first European country to legislate a comprehensive framework protecting unaccompanied children. Close to three years after the bill was first introduced, and following concerted advocacy by human rights organisations during the parliamentary process, the 'Provisions on protective measures for unaccompanied foreign minors'1 was passed with a large majority. It is referred to as the 'Zampa' law after the Italian politician who proposed it, and its provisions are based on extensive experience in the field with unaccompanied children and on international child rights principles.

Hailed by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) as a model for other European countries and described by Save the Children as the "most elaborate system for child protection in Europe", the Zampa law emerged in response to the large numbers of unaccompanied children travelling across the Mediterranean Sea to Italy. Between 1 January and 31 December 2017, 15,779 unaccompanied children entered Italy by sea.2 These children come predominantly from African countries, Bangladesh and Syria and many recent reports have illustrated the difficulty and desperation of their journeys, the sexual and physical abuse they often encounter, and their vulnerability to human traffickers.3

The European Union (EU) has taken a number of steps to address the protection needs of unaccompanied children, including revising both the Common European Asylum System and the EU Return Directive, and implementing its Action Plan on Unaccompanied Minors 2010-2014.4 Notwithstanding these actions, and despite the efforts of some EU states, many countries lack specific laws or comprehensive frameworks to address the protection needs of unaccompanied children.

The law's provisions

The Zampa law's articles create and amend various procedures relating to the reception and treatment of unaccompanied children in Italy, and guarantee them a minimum level of care. Importantly, the law reflects several fundamental rights from the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, including rights to health care and education, legal representation, and to be heard during judicial and administrative proceedings. It also incorporates the best interests of the child principle.

The law's first article recognises the special vulnerabilities of unaccompanied children and guarantees them the same rights and protection afforded to Italian and other European children. Another article introduces an absolute prohibition on the return or removal of any unaccompanied child from Italy, unless ordered by a court in exceptional circumstances - and only where no serious harm would befall the child. The law requires identity procedures to be carried out on arrival of an unaccompanied child in Italy, and an inquiry to be conducted to determine what future actions will be in the child's best interests. Where there is reasonable doubt over a child's age, age determinations may be carried out, but should use the least invasive methods possible. Identification procedures should be concluded within ten days and be carried out in primary reception facilities. Facilities must meet minimum standards to ensure the child is adequately accommodated and their fundamental rights protected. After 30 days children should be transferred to secondary centres within Italy's System for the Protection of Asylum Seekers and Refugees (SPRAR).

The law provides that unaccompanied children must have access to the Italian National Health Service during their time in Italy, and be admitted to educational institutions. …

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