Anyone who has seen “The Godfather” I or II has a sense of the mafia culture in Italy. That wasn’t fiction; indeed, it was probably understated, and is strong as ever. Now legislators are experimenting with a radical new approach to fighting organized crime in the country, a deep-rooted pathology that has persisted for centuries.The strategy is draconian: separating children from their mob families and moving them to a different part of Italy to end a generational cycle of crime. Families are the heart of organized crime: the “Godfather” films’ portrayal was absolutely accurate on that score.
Italian magistrate Roberto Di Bella began taking children away from their criminal families after seeing children as young as 11 or 12 serving as lookouts during murders, participating in drug deals and mob strategy sessions, and learning how to shoot an assault rifle. “Sons follow their fathers,” he told New York Times reporter Gaia Piani Giani. “The state can’t allow that children are educated to be criminals.”
Di Bella began taking children away from parents convicted of mob ties five years ago, separating about 40 boys and girls, ages 12 to 16, from their families. Sometimes the children’s mothers accompany them to the new locales. The rest of the embryonic mafiosi go into foster care.Di Bella says that none of the children he has taken away from their families have committed a crime since, and impressed with his results, Italy recently passed statutes that legalize the strategy as a way to destroy crime families.
Of course the program is controversial. Di Bella, however, believes that it is a utilitarian necessity. He told the Times that mafia fathers have written to him to thank him for for giving their children a chance at a normal life, their children have told him they feel liberated, and mothers ask if he will do it for their children.
Your Ethics Alarms Italian Ethics Quiz of the Day:
Is the policy of removing children from organized crime families ethical?
I’m going to wait a bit to weigh in, but a couple of ethics questions frame the issue:
1. Is the family sacrosanct? Is any instance of the government removing a child ethical?
2. If we concede that the government can and should remove a child who is being neglected and whose safety is at risk, how is Di Bella’s policy different?
3. If we know, and we should, that cultures are powerful and their influence pervasive, doesn’t it follow that destroying toxic cultures is reasonable and in the best interest of society?
4. Which ethical system fits this problem best?
- Is it Reciprocity: “I would never want the government to take my child away from me”?
- Is it Absolutism: “No government should ever break up a family, as long as the children are being fed, housed and cared for”?
- Italy has opted for Utilitarianism. Its government believes, in this case, that solving a persistent law enforcement problem justifies a brutal means.
Facts: New York Times