Rising to the Challenge...in Italy

Ten year old Piero ( imaginary name) wakes up every morning at six a.m. He washes his hands and face, brushes his teeth, combs his hair, gets dressed and rushes down the stairs.

His 13 year old sister Chiara (imaginary name) leaves him a warm cup of milk and a few biscuits on the kitchen table before she hurries off to work. Chiara has been a cleaning lady since she was 11 years old. Their mother Teresa (imaginary name) leaves home at dawn. Her day begins early at the local fish market.

Piero guzzles down his breakfast and grabs a lunch bag from the fridge. The door slams behind him as he hops on an old, rusty bicycle that once belonged to his grandfather. His feet can barely touch the ground but, somehow, Piero has learned to fly through that fifteen minute ride to the construction yard. Every day, sun or rain, he is forced to heave bags full of cement over his shoulders. One by one he loads them on trucks, for eight or nine hours. At the end of the week he is handed 35 euros.

The money he earns helps his mother put food on the table. Piero pulls a worn out, brown leather wallet from his pocket. It's the only thing his father left behind the day he left. He folds a five euro bill in half and tucks it away in one of the pouches. Fifty more euros and the new bike he's been saving up for will be his!

As I watch my eleven year old son doddle off to school I can't help but think: "This is how life should be for every single child in the world." His eyes are full of play and dreams. It's a nippy winter morning. What a wonderful feeling it is to be able to follow his steps to the end of the street. I love seeing him stop, turn and wave. Then comes his "thumb up" signal. It means: " See you after school mom! " My mind turns to all the Piero's I've read about in the past few days. They are not far away. Not at all. They don't live in India or Africa. Far too easily do we link and label child -- labour as a distant plague. The truth is that children are exploited wherever there is poverty. In my case, in Italy this means that there are minors forced to work in every part of the country.

According to Save the Children, in Italy, more than 1 out of 20 juveniles under the age of sixteen are part of an invisible work force. Invisible because they don't exist. They don't exist to politicians, to the government, to the State. Most of them abandon school to go to work between the ages of fourteen and fifteen. It's no wonder Italy has one of highest dropout rates in Europe! ( 18 percent)

Data on child labour goes back 13 years. The phenomenon hasn't been properly monitored since 2001/2002. This leaves one wondering: what are the numbers today? In a country like ours that continues to sink in a bottomless pit of corruption and mafia, how many children are illegally used to work in bars, restaurants, farms, construction sites? How many fall into the web of organized crime in a desperate search to earn some money? How many end up selling and doing drugs on the street corners of impoverished neighborhoods? How many invisible children are there in Italy? A terrifying answer lurks in one's mind!

Recently, in Italy, the Renzi government approved a controversial labour reform. One of the major gaps is that it does not include nor does it specify a way to guarantee positive work experiences for young citizens who decide to enter the work force when they are legally able to do so, at the age of 16.

By "positive work experience" I mean the right to work in a healthy, safe and clean environment. But I also intend the right to earn just wages based on a contract that abides by federal laws. Anything less than this is negligence. Anything less than this is a crime.

It is our responsibility to make sure that not one future, that not one dream is robbed from any single child in the world. Children have specific rights. Governments and society need to assure these rights. Together we must nourish, protect, guide and love our children. We cannot be silent bystanders of social anomalies that damage our young. In this age of abundance, it is unacceptable to even imagine the possibility of children being forced to work and experience the humiliation and pain that come with exploitation and abuse.

Throughout the world there are many organizations and associations engaged in safeguarding and guaranteeing our children's rights. Let's join the good part of humanity, the one that acts to reinstate values and ideals which represent the pillars of Justice, Equality and Democracy. Let's save our children and regenerate hope. Let's rise to the challenge, together. Let's defeat child labour, exploitation and abuse once and for all!