Italy govt targets violent teens and parents in "Baby gang" crackdown

By Giuseppe Fonte and Alvise Armellini

ROME (Reuters) - Parents of Italian children who drop out of school could face jail sentences under new steps to counter juvenile delinquency in the wake of a series of high profile crimes blamed on teenagers.

The measure was part of a crackdown approved by Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni's right-wing cabinet on Thursday in response to public concerns over what the Italian media calls "Baby gangs".

"Juvenile crime is spreading like an oil stain," Meloni said during a press conference, saying that the state had preferred to shy away from tackling the problem in the past.

The government decree makes it easier to arrest minors who carry weapons and gives the authorities the power to confiscate mobile phones from some of them. Banning orders from specific trouble spots will also be applicable to people as young as 14.

Rome also wants to make parental controls on devices easier to use in order to try to limit young people's access to pornographic material .

The government has acted after youth gang-rape cases on the outskirts of Naples and in the Sicilian capital Palermo, targeting two pre-teen cousins and a 19-year-old girl, hit the headlines.

They were followed last week by the killing in Naples of a 24-year-old at the hands of a 17-year-old, allegedly in a row over parking. Such crimes have led the government to vow that there should not be any "no-go zones" in Italy.

The government decree will enter into force immediately but needs to be ratified by parliament within 60 days or it will expire.

It is unlikely that parents sentenced under the new school truancy rules will end up behind bars, as in Italy jail terms of up to four years are normally not served in prison. Nevertheless, a criminal record remains a serious matter.

According to the Openpolis foundation, Italy had the fifth-highest share of early school leavers in the EU, equal to 11.5% last year, with percentages peaking above 15% in Campania and Sicily, the regions that comprise Naples and Palermo.

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(Reporting by Giuseppe Fonte and Alvise Armellini, editing by Keith Weir)