UNICEF hails new Italian law to protect unaccompanied refugee and migrant children as model for Europe

Italian parliament passes law following lobbying efforts and release of UNICEF’s “ Child Alert: A Deadly Journey for Children”

29 March 2017
Mohammad, 17, bumps fists with a local Italian man near a government reception center that doubles as a lodging station for unaccompanied minors in Sicily, Italy
UNICEF/UN020030/Gilbertson VII Photo

ROME/GENEVA, 29 March  2017 - UNICEF welcomes the Italian Parliament for passing an historic law to boost support and protection for the record number of foreign unaccompanied and separated children who arrived in Italy – nearly 26,000 in 2016.  With nearly 2,000 foreign children arriving on the Mediterranean in the first two months of 2017, the upward trend in arrivals is expected to continue this year making this law timely and relevant. 

“While across Europe we have seen fences going up, children detained and pledges unmet,  the Italian parliamentarians have shown their compassion and duty to young refugees and migrants,” said Afshan Khan, UNICEF Regional Director and Special Coordinator for the Refugee and Migrant Crisis in Europe, who on her recent visit to Italy met several newly arrived children. “This new law serves not only to give refugee and migrant children a sense of predictability in their uncertain lives after risking so much to get to Europe - it serves as a model for how other European countries could put in place a legislative framework that supports protection.”

The Italian Parliament passed the new (Zampa) law for “Provision of Protection measures” after two years of intensive advocacy efforts by UNICEF and other child rights organizations in Italy.  According to a recent UNICEF report “ Child Alert: A Deadly Journey for Children”, refugee and migrant children and women routinely suffer sexual violence, exploitation, abuse and detention at the hands of smugglers on the Central Mediterranean migration route to reach Italy. The report was widely cited in the Italian Parliament.

The Central Mediterranean route from North Africa to Italy has become one of the main routes for children fleeing conflict, persecution and deprivation, as well as one of the longest and most dangerous. Some 92 percent of children on the move into Italy are between 14-17 years old and travelling by themselves.

The Zampa law, as the new measure is known, is the first comprehensive act for unaccompanied children in Italy. It calls for a series of measures - fully aligned with UNICEF recommendations - to protect refugee and migrant children, including:

• Unaccompanied and separated foreign children will not be subjected to “refoulement” or returns that may cause them harm;
• Reduce the time these children spend in first-line reception centres;
• Promote guardianship for children by using trained volunteers from the regional child and youth agency and promote foster care and host families for children;
• Harmonize and improve procedures for age assessment in a child-sensitive manner;
• Establish a structured and streamlined national reception system, with minimum standards in all reception facilities;
• Roll out extensive use of qualified cultural mediators* to communicate and interpret needs of vulnerable adolescents; 

The new law includes additional budgetary provisions on top of €600 million which the Government of Italy had already allocated in 2016 to municipalities, groups and caregivers to help them cope with the large influx of refugees and migrants in reception centres.

*Footnote – cultural mediators work as interpreters of cultural needs and practices


Note to editors:

UNICEF in Italy aims to support children at every step of the way – at sea and on land. On board Italian coastguard rescue ships, UNICEF, together with partner Intersos, helps identify unaccompanied children and assists them, as well as mothers with children, during rescue operations at sea. UNICEF has set up child-friendly spaces on these rescue ships and helps distribute hygiene kits for girls and women and other resource materials. In Sicily and Calabria UNICEF is working to streamline government’s child protection efforts, and improve conditions in the reception centres that host unaccompanied children, helping to put in place learning, skills training, sport and language activities. UNICEF has so far trained some 200 front line workers and volunteer tutors, to better equip them in protecting children’s rights. In Rome and at the northern border areas, UNICEF mobile teams composed of social workers and cultural mediators refer vulnerable children outside the organized system of reception for special protection. During the first two months of 2017, UNICEF-supported outreach teams identified and assisted 1,602 unaccompanied and separated children at risk.

Media contacts

Sarah Crowe
UNICEF Innocenti
Tel: +41 79 543 80 29
Alberto Atzori
UNICEF National Committee in Italy
Tel: +39 339 453 1912


UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.

For more information about UNICEF and its work for children, visit www.unicef.org.

Follow UNICEF on Twitter and Facebook